Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoko Embalo said on Saturday that this week’s deadly violence by National Guard troops was an “attempted coup” as the military ordered them back to their barracks.
At least two people were killed in a riot between the National Guard and presidential guard special forces in the capital Bissau on Thursday night.
Embalo, who was in Dubai to attend the COP28 climate change conference, arrived in Bissau on Saturday and said an “attempted coup” had prevented his return.
“I must say that this act will have serious consequences,” he added.
Embalo said the attempted coup was prepared ahead of celebrations to mark Armed Forces Day on November 16.
Since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974, the small West African country has experienced a series of coups and attempted coups.
Embalo was elected to a five-year term in December 2019 and survived a failed overthrow in February 2022.
Six soldiers were injured in the fighting and evacuated to neighboring Senegal, a military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.
Calm had returned to the small country with a volatile history by midday Friday after the military announced it had captured National Guard commander Col. Victor Chongo.
On Saturday, the presence of security forces in Bissau was reduced, but soldiers were still visible around certain strategic buildings, including the presidential palace, judicial police headquarters, and some ministries.
The military said in a statement on Saturday that some National Guard officers and soldiers had fled into the country’s interior, but did not say how many.
“The Armed Forces Chief of Staff hereby informs them that they must return to their duty stations,” the statement continued.
ECOWAS expresses “full solidarity” –
Regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said it “strongly condemns the violence and all attempts to destroy constitutional order and the rule of law in Guinea-Bissau.”
“ECOWAS further calls for the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators of the incident in accordance with the law,” the Abuja-based group added in a statement on Saturday.
The regional bloc also expressed “full solidarity with the people of Guinea-Bissau and the constitutional authorities.”
Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, called for calm on Friday and urged security forces and the military to “continue to refrain from interfering in national affairs.”
National Guard troops stormed a police station Thursday night and took away Finance Minister Suleiman Seidi and Finance Secretary Antonio Monteiro, military and intelligence officials said.
Two government members were being questioned about the withdrawal of $10 million from a state account. They were being held on the orders of state prosecutors appointed by the president.
Embalo said someone sent Chongo to remove Sadie from custody and announced on Monday that a commission of inquiry would be formed.
The National Guard falls under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry, which, like most ministries in the country, is controlled by the PAIGC party, which won a coalition government in June 2023 elections.
The two government officials were taken into custody again after the military removed them from National Guard custody.
“We have always chosen to apply this law. The elected president must complete his term,” government spokesman Francisco Munillo Conte said on Saturday.
“If the law is truly respected, no one can stand in the way of those facing justice,” he added.
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