The junta in Guinea-Bissau on Saturday said its plan for a two-year transition had only been a suggestion, in an apparent climbdown following threats of UN and regional sanctions.
Hours afterwards the opposition politician picked as transitional president by the junta said he was turning down what he described as an “illegal” appointment.
“It was only a proposal, not an official announcement,” junta spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Daba Da Walna said by telephone from Bissau, in reference to plans for a lengthy transition before a return to democracy.
The junta has come under fire from the UN and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for failing to restore civilian rule after an April 12 military coup.
The UN Security Council on Saturday threatened “targeted sanctions” if the junta did not step down and return civilians to power, reiterating its “strong condemnation” of the coup in the tiny West African state.
It demanded the “immediate restoration of the constitutional order as well as the reinstatement of the legitimate government of Guinea-Bissau,” rejecting the two-year transitional council proposed by the junta.
Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo, named as transitional president by the junta, came third in the first round of a presidential election aborted by the coup and was thus eliminated from the second-round run-off.
On Friday he had protested that he had not been consulted over the move. And shortly after the junta’s apparent backtracking on Saturday, he declared that he would not be taking the job.
“I do not accept this appointment,” he said.
“I am a defender of the rule of law and I do not recognize any institution created outside the law,” he added, speaking by telephone from the parliament building in Bissau.
Da Walna, meanwhile, asked about the fate of ousted leaders Bissau-Guinean interim president Raimundo Pereira and Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, repeated that they would be released as soon as security allowed it.
“We do not want them to become victims of any private vengeance or reprisals. We are committed to protecting people’s lives,” he said.
Da Walna said they could be released sometime this week, but dismissed as “premature” the possibility of a resumption of the electoral process interrupted by the coup.
Also on Saturday, Bissau-Guinean Foreign Minister Edouard Nyankoi Lamah said an ECOWAS summit on the crisis, set for today in Conakry, had been canceled because of the junta’s intransigence.
The decision to scrap the summit was made “following the junta’s grave decision to name a president, set up a transitional council and provide for a two-year transition,” Lamah said.
The Security Council also demanded “the immediate and unconditional release” of Pereira, Gomes and several other top officials.
On Thursday, Ivorian Ambassador to the UN Youssoufou Bamba, speaking on behalf of ECOWAS, said it intended to deploy a “military contingent’” to Guinea-Bissau to ensure protection of VIPs and institutions as well as “the envisaged transition and electoral process.’’
The Security Council statement of condemnation on Saturday made no mention of a UN force, but supported measures taken by ECOWAS, the African Union and Portuguese-speaking nations to restore constitutional order.
Defying calls for a return to democracy, the junta struck a deal with opposition parties for the two-year transition period, which excludes the former ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde and smaller allied parties.