Law and order is breaking down in Guinea-Bissau, the former Portuguese colony on the West coast of Africa. In 1999, a coup d’etat brought the military junta led by Brigadier Ansumane Mane to power, overthrowing the President Nino Vieira. Mane, later promoted to General, allowed elections to be held but did not stand for office. The new president, Kumba Yala, was elected and Mane retired into obscurity, keeping the control of the military very firmly in his hands from behind the scenes. Ansumane Mane is from the area in the north of the country which borders with Senegal, Casamansa. The people living in the south of Senegal and the north of Guinea Bissau are Casamansa, and they have strained relations with the rest of their countries. Ansumane Mane recently drew up a list of promotions in the Guinea Bissau Armed Forces, which he presented for approval by the government. However, the President, Kumba Yala, made alterations to the list, which did not please Mane, who dismissed the Chief of Staff, General Seabra, placed him under house arrest and assumed the role of Chief of Staff himself. Today there are reports of shots being fired in the capital, Bissau. The population is fleeing to the countryside, terrified of a revival of the armed conflict which destroyed large parts of this small and impoverished country two years ago. Some reports state that these shots were fired when Ansumane Mane’s men tried to disarm the Presidential Guard, others blame a skirmish between forces loyal to Mane and General Seabra. Whatever the case, reports are now coming from Bissau that the situation is deteriorating fast. Any conflict in Guinea puts the stability of the region at stake because it brings up the Casamansa question, a barrel of gunpowder waiting to explode.

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey PRAVDA.Ru Lisbon

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