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Government names new military chiefs chosen by mutineers

[Guinea-Bissau] General Verissimo Correia Seabra.
Le général Verissimo Seabra Corriea a été tué aux premières heures de la mutinerie (AP Photo)

The elected government of Guinea-Bissau named a new set of interim military commanders on Thursday following an army mutiny earlier this month.

Military sources said all the new appointees had been chosen by the mutineers who shot dead the previous head of the armed forces on 6 October.

A government decree, read out over local radio stations, said the new military commanders would serve in an interim capacity until a new elected president takes office in this small West African country.

Presidential elections are due in March 2005 to complete Guinea-Bissau's return to democracy following a bloodless coup in September last year. The new elected head of state is expected to take office in May.

Parliamentary elections were held in March this year and were won by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC). This went on to form the present government headed by Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior.

Thursday's decree, which was signed by interim president Henrique Rosa, named General Tagme Na Wai as chief of staff of the armed forces.

Na Wai is a former guerrilla who fought in the PAIGC's bush war against Portuguese colonial rule from 1963 to 1974. He has little in the way of formal education, and although he speaks Creole Portuguese, he does not speak formal Portuguese, which is Guinea-Bissau's official language.

Like the overwhelming majority of soldiers in Guinea-Bissau's 5,000-strong army, he is a member of the Balanta ethnic group, which accounts for a third of the country's 1.3 million population. The Balanta are strongly identified with the opposition Social Renovation Party (PRS) of former president Kumba Yala, who was overthrown in last year's coup.

Even though Na Wai has been appointed under duress by the present government, he is likely to command the confidence of Guinea-Bissau's influential northern neighbour Senegal.

In 2001 Na Wai spearheaded a campaign to flush out bases inside Guinea-Bissau of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC). This armed separatist group is fighting for the independence of the Casamance region of southern Senegal.

The new chief of staff of the army is Brigadier Armindo Gomes. He was deputy head of the army before the mutiny staged earlier this month by a batallion of 650 soldiers who had served with the UN peacekeeping force in Liberia.

The soldiers seized key military installations in the capital Bissau and staged a street demonstration to demand the settlement of pay arrears and improved living conditions for soldiers.

They also killed the previous chief of staff of the armed forces, General Verissimo Correia Seabra, who was one of the few senior officers in the country who was not Balanta, and Colonel Domingos de Barros, the head of human resources in the military high command.

The government appointed Captain Jose Americo Bobo Natchoto as the new interim chief of staff of the navy.

The new chief of staff of the air force, which no longer has any planes in airworthy condition, was named as Brigadier Antonio Gomes. He is a pilot by training.

Unusually, no deputies were appointed to back up the new military commanders.

About a dozen officers of the previous military high command went into hiding after the army mutiny. Several senior officers sought refuge in western embassies. All of them have now been replaced.

There was no immediate comment on the new military appointments from the government or opposition.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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