Reports are emerging that government officials in the impoverished West African nation of Guinea-Bissau have thwarted an attempted coup and arrested a number of conspirators following a stand-off with renegade soldiers Monday evening that left at least one person dead.
The chief of the army General Antonio Indjai stated that Navy Chief Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto was arrested in connection with the coup. Tchuto is a notorious figure who has previously been implicated in other coup attempts as well as alleged involvement in the drug trade.
Former army chief General Watna Na Lai was also arrested, a spokesman for the army said.
Indjai added that: The situation is under the control of the army and the government.
However, during the exchange of gunfire, several renegade soldiers reportedly seized and took weaponry and ammunition from government supplies.
Military forces are now combing through the capital city of Bissau, seeking all other conspirators, reported Agence France Presse (AFP).
We had gone to Luanda [district] to arrest a group of suspects, an unnamed army captain told AFP.
They were armed and opened fire on my men; I lost one and two others were wounded.
The captain also indicated that it was instructed to arrest and detain some people who are members of the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).
Among the suspects, there were three political officials, two of them PAIGC members of parliament, he said.
They took advantage of the [gunfire] exchange of fire to vanish. We are actively looking for them.
Media later identified the suspected PAIGC members as Francisco Conduto De Pina and Roberto Cacheu, who are described as being opposed to prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior.
Prime Minister Gomes Junior told reporters after meeting with senior lawmakers: I do not know whether politicians were involved in the attempted coup. Investigations will tell us.
Other reports allege that it was not a coup but demands of a pay hike by some soldiers that led to the confrontation and rumors of a government takeover.
Meanwhile, the country’s President Malam Bacai Sanha is reportedly in a Paris hospital undergoing medical treatment.
Unconfirmed reports indicated that Sanha has died.
Guinea-Bissau, which gained independence from Portugal in 1974, has endured a chaotic and unstable history. Moreover, it has become a key drug trafficking center, particularly for South American cocaine bound for Europe. Heavily dependent on foreign aid, it is one of the poorest nations on earth.
Alberto Dabo, a journalist based in Guinea Bissau told BBC that the battle in the country may simply reflect a fight for control of the drug trade.
People here are angry because of the behavior of the military, who have been involved in bloody events since the 1980s. Citizens who have been interviewed say they want peace and stability in this country, he added.