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Africa

Suspected mastermind of G. Bissau 'mutiny' arrested

Latest update : 2008-12-06

The suspected mastermind of an attack on the home of Guinea-Bissau's president has been arrested in Senegal on Wednesday. On Nov. 23, mutinous soldiers attacked the residence of President Joao Bernardo Vieira, killing two guards.

AFP - The suspected leader of an attack against the residence of the president of Guinea-Bissau last month was arrested in the Senegalese capital, an interior ministry official announced Wednesday.
   
Alexandre Tchama Yala "was arrested the day before yesterday (Monday) in Dakar. He is currently in the hands of the police which is investigating," the official told AFP speaking on condition of anonymity.
   
The suspect was among a group of three wanted for their role in the attack.
   
Mutinous soldiers attacked the residence of President Joao Bernardo Vieira on November 23, a week after successful parliamentary elections had given fresh hope for stability in the country.
   
Two presidential guards died in the attack and several others were wounded.
   
The poverty-stricken West African nation has been the scene of several coups and attempted coups since its independence in 1974 from Portugal. While the authorities are officially calling the attack a mutiny some observers see it as a failed attempt to seize power.
   
"The army has always been a political instrument before and after the freedom struggle (led by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde PAIGC)", political scientist Fafaly Koudawo has said.
   
According to him the army feels entitled to mix in politics because of the important role in securing independence fighting the Portuguese army.
   
The International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank wrote in their July report on Guinea-Bissau that "above all, army reform is needed most urgently to free the political system from military interference".
   
One of the problems is the size of the army. According to a United Nations report Guinea-Bissau has a very high number of soldiers relative to the state's means.
   
"The number of active soldiers is 4,458 which translates to a ratio of 2.73 soldiers for every 1,000 inhabitants" on a population of 1.6 million, the UN said. The regional average is at 1.23 soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants.
   
The army is also struggling with ethnic divides. Experts note that most officers, especially younger officers are of the Balante ethnicity, one of the largest ethnicities in Guinea-Bissau, while the ordinary soldiers are much more mixed.
   
On top of that some soldiers are involved in drugs smuggling and are thus opposed "to a reform that could force them into retirement and cut them off from lucrative drugs trafficking income", the International Crisis Group said.
   
In the last few years Guinea-Bissau has become a hub for South American drug traffickers en route to Europe which experts say have further undermined the already weak state institutions.

Date created : 2008-12-04

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