UPDATE 2-Guinea-Bissau: Portugal behind failed coup bid

Alberto Dabo

* Attack aimed to return to power deposed PM, says


* Assailants "came from outside"

(Adds comments from Brazil and Cape Verde, paragraphs 11-14)

BISSAU, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Guinea-Bissau's interim

government accused Portugal and other Portuguese-speaking

countries of being behind an assault on an air force base,

saying it was part of a strategy to return to power the West

African nation's exiled former prime minister.

The military of the tiny coup-prone former Portuguese colony

repelled the attack near the capital Bissau early on Sunday

during a two-hour gun battle that killed six people.

"The attack ... is part of the strategy to bring (ex-prime

minister) Carlos Gomes Junior back to Guinea-Bissau, even at the

cost of human lives," government spokesman Fernando Vaz said in

a statement read on state radio on Sunday night.

"The tone of the speeches given by Portugal, the Community

of Portuguese-speaking Countries (CPLP) and Carlos Gomes Junior

was the precursor to the attack," he said.

Guinea-Bissau, a transit hub for Latin American cocaine

smuggled to Europe, is in the throes of a ragged recovery after

the army overthrew the government in April just weeks before a

second round presidential vote Gomes Junior was favoured to win.

The junta said Gomes Junior had a secret pact with Angola,

which had soldiers deployed in Bissau at the time, to eliminate

the military's leadership.

The West African regional bloc ECOWAS brokered a deal that

allowed a handover of power to a civilian interim government

charged with setting up new elections.

But interim president Manuel Sherifo Nhamadjo lacks the full

support of the United Nations, the European Union and the CPLP,

however, who say his government remains under army influence.

Portugal's foreign ministry said on Monday it would not

react to the accusations it was involved in Sunday's events. It

said earlier that it viewed the situation in the country "with

concern after another case of military movements.

"There is no military solution to problems faced by Guinea

Bissau. Only via a political process will it be possible to

overcome the current crisis situation in this friendly country,"

the statement read.

Brazil Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said stabilising

Guinea-Bissau will be a test for its partners.

"This will be a test for the subregional and multilateral

system: if it cannot establish a strategy of stabilisation for

Guinea-Bissau, it is hard to imagine how it will handle bigger

challenges when they arise," Patriota told reporters after

meeting with visiting Cape Verde Foreign Minister Jorge Borges.

Borges said West African nations were concerned that drug

trafficking and terrorism were undermining the stability of

Guinea-Bissau and Mali. Coups have become cyclical in

Guinea-Bissau, he said.

"The Guinea-Bissau people are hostage to a group of

politicians and military officers who do not dignify or

contribute in any way to the normal and desirable development of

the nation," Borges said.

The governments of other members of the CPLP grouping of

Portuguese-speaking countries Angola, Mozambique, Sao Tome and

Principe and East Timor, had no immediate comment.


The country's interim prime minister said on Monday that

four of the six gunmen killed were from the Djolla ethnic group,

common in neighbouring Senegal's southern Casamance region. An

unknown number of attackers were also taken prisoner and others

remain at large.

"This attack did not come from inside the country and not

from the security and defence forces either. The attack ... came

from outside," transitional Prime Minister Rui Duarte de Barros

said during a meeting with diplomats.

Duarte de Barros said the attempted counter-coup was led by

Captain Pansao Ntchama, a bodyguard to the former head of the

army under Gomes Junior.

He said Ntchama had used a vehicle belonging to Thomas

Barboza, a former member of Gomes Junior's government, to carry

out the attack. He did not elaborate on how he knew this. The

vehicle was later recovered loaded with ammunition.

The authorities also arrested the leader of a political bloc

opposed to the junta, accusing him of having been involved in

the attack.

Gomes Junior, who is currently living in exile in Portugal,

was not immediately reachable for comment.

Decades of turmoil and regular military coups since it won

independence in 1974 have ballooned the size of the army and

made Guinea-Bissau's maze of mangrove-lined islands a smuggling

route for Latin American drugs cartels.

The elections earlier this year were meant to put the

country on the road to stability and to improve its ability to

clamp down on drugs trafficking.

(Reporting by Alberto Dabo; Additional reporting by Anthony

Boadle in Brasilia; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Jon


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