At least 7 dead in attack on Guinea-Bissau army barracks

Gunmen raided a Guinea-Bissau army barracks on Sunday, sparking a firefight that left at least seven people dead in the latest unrest to blight the chronically unstable country.

Witnesses said the raid on the barracks of an elite unit near the capital's airport was led by Captain Pansau N'Tchama, the head of a commando unit which assassinated president Joao Bernado Vieira in 2009.

The pre-dawn attack is certain to add to tensions in the west African country, where a junta seized power in a coup in April in the putsch-prone country.

Armed men launched the assault on the "red beret" barracks about 4:00 am (0400 GMT), but soldiers fought off the attack after about an hour of fighting, forcing the assailants to flee, witnesses said.

The assailants, who have been spotted not far from Bissau are being sought by the army, which has been placed on alert, a military source said.

Army vehicles were criss-crossing Bissau in the hours after the raid, although the situation in the capital was calm.

Defence and security forces have also been deployed to the airport and the 5-kilometre area leading to the capital, AFP witnessed.

N'Tchama is a former member of the "red berets" and returned last week from Portugal, where he had been undergoing military training since July 2009, according to security sources.

An AFP journalist at the scene saw the dead bodies of six attackers. A sentry at the barracks was also killed by N'Tchama himself, who took his weapon, a surviving comrade said.

A military source confirmed the attack but would not say whether there had been any casualties among the "red beret" ground force unit.

There was no immediate information about why N'Tchama may have carried out the assault, but the captain is a former associate of leaders who were overthrown April 12.

Additionally, the promotion of certain troops has recently stoked the anger of those who were not promoted, observers say.

Since independence from Portugal in 1974, the army and state in the chronically unstable nation of 1.6 million people have remained in constant conflict, and no president has ever completed a full term in office.

After the April coup, orchestrated by army chief of staff General Antonio Indjai, the junta that had seized power reached a deal with a group of political leaders to hand control over to a transitional government led by interim president Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo.

The coup interrupted a presidential election between the first and second rounds, and the transition deal calls for new polls in 2013.

But the ousted African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), which is excluded from the interim government, has refused to recognise it.

Coup mastermind Indjai visited the barracks after the attack, as well as army headquarters in central Bissau.

The country's chronic instability has turned into a hub for drug trafficking between South America and Europe in recent years. Senior military officers are believed to be involved in the trafficking.

After the April coup the European Union, the country's chief trading partner, suspended its aid and imposed sanctions on a number of military officers, including Indjai.

At the end of September, interim leader Nhamadjo called on the international community to back the fight against drug-trafficking and help organise elections in 2013.

by Allen Yero Embalo © 2012 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Oct 21, 2012