Guinea-Bissau: Gunfire after release of 2 ministers

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Guinea-Bissau National Guard soldiers freed two members of the government who were being questioned by the police on Thursday night, before exchanging gunfire with special forces, according to military and intelligence sources.

The Minister of Economy and Finance, Souleiman Seidi, and the Secretary of State for the Treasury, Antonio Monteiro, had been summoned by the judiciary on Thursday morning and then taken into custody.

The judicial police questioned the two senior officials for several hours about a withdrawal of ten million dollars from state coffers, according to the same sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Mr Seidi had been questioned by MPs about the withdrawal during a session of the National Assembly on Monday.

He claimed that the withdrawal was legal and intended to support the national private sector.

According to the same sources, at around 10.00 pm on Thursday evening (the same time GMT), members of the National Guard, an army unit, infiltrated the minister and the secretary of state from the premises of the judicial police, took them to an unknown destination and then retreated to a barracks in the Santa Luzia district, the same sources said.

Heavy gunfire was then heard on Friday morning in this district in the south of the capital Bissau.

Military and intelligence sources said that the special forces intervened against the National Guard after several unsuccessful attempts at mediation.

An exchange of fire ensued before calm was restored, they added.

An AFP journalist observed that elements of the Guinea-Bissau Stabilisation Support Force, deployed in the country by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), were seen patrolling the streets of Bissau on Friday morning. 

These events come as President Umaro Sissoco Embalo, elected in December 2019 for a five-year term, is in Dubai to attend the 28th United Nations Climate Conference (COP28).

A small, poor country in West Africa, Guinea-Bissau suffers from chronic political instability and has been the victim of a string of coups de force since its independence from Portugal in 1974, the most recent in February 2022.

In September, President Embalo appointed two generals, Tomas Djassi and Horta Inta, as Head of Presidential Security and Chief of Staff respectively.

These two posts, provided for in the official organisation chart, had not been filled for several decades.

This reinforcement of presidential security comes at a time when coups d’état or attempted coups d’état are multiplying in West Africa, notably in Gabon, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and, again this week, Sierra Leone.

Africanews/Hauwa M.

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