Sat, May 19, 2012 - Page 6 News List

West African troops start arriving in Guinea-Bissau

Reuters, Bissau

Soldiers from Burkina Faso, part of a west African force in Guinea-Bissau, arrive at Bissau airport yesterday.

Photo: AFP

About 70 soldiers from Burkina Faso were deployed in Guinea--Bissau on Thursday, an advance party for a 600-strong West African force that is scheduled to replace Angolan troops and oversee a transition back to civilian rule.

Plagued by decades of coups and instability, and now also a major hub for cocaine shipments from Latin America to Europe, an army putsch ousted the former Portuguese colony’s civilian government on April 12.

A reporter in Bissau said the Burkinabe soldiers and policemen arrived in a civilian jet and were unarmed. They set up base in Cumere, 35km northeast of the capital.

“These 70 soldiers and paramilitaries are being deployed to accompany the country during its one year transitional period,” Ansumane Cisse, the top civilian official from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the country, told journalists watching the troops arrive.

Members of Guinea-Bissau’s military were also at the airport, but did not comment.

It was not immediately clear when the remaining soldiers, due to come from Nigeria, Senegal and Togo, would arrive.

The ECOWAS force is scheduled to replace an Angolan mission, which has been in the country for about a year, but fell out with local military officers.

Since the coup, mediation by ECOWAS has led to the swearing-in of an interim Bissau-Guinean president, prime minister and government tasked with managing a one-year transitional period.

The West African force is to oversee that transition and help push through reform of the army, which has long meddled in politics and, in recent years, has been widely accused of facilitating the drugs trade.

Former Bissau-Guinean prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior, who was the presidential front-runner before the polls were cut short by the coup, has said he does not recognize the new authorities and has accused ECOWAS of legitimizing the coup leaders.

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