Guinea-Bissau Junta Seeks New “Constitutional Arrangements”

Posted April 17th, 2012 at 8:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Guinea-Bissau's military junta says it wants to work out a new “constitutional arrangement” for the country, defying international demands for the current constitution to be restored.

A spokesman for the junta, Lieutenant Colonel Dahba Na Walma spoke by phone to VOA on Tuesday. He said junta leaders are in consultation with opposition parties, trying to form a new government.

He said that the military command is working with political leaders to create a new solution and that is what will be presented to the ECOWAS — the Economic Community of West African States.

Earlier Tuesday, the African Union suspended Guinea-Bissau's membership. In a statement, AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping said coup leaders are violating the constitution, and urged Guinea-Bissau politicians to avoid involvement in what he called window dressing for the takeover.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. “strongly” supports ECOWAS efforts to return control of the country's government to civilians.

“We just want to see a return to civilian rule. But certainly we want to see something that is in keeping with democratic standards.”

Leaders from ECOWAS met with junta chiefs Monday in the capital, Bissau. Na Walma said ECOWAS agreed to send a technical team to help with the transition back to civilian rule.

ECOWAS and the African Union have rejected last week's coup and are demanding the junta release interim President Raimundo Pereira and former prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior. Mr. Gomes was the leading candidate in a presidential runoff vote that was scheduled for April 29.

Na Walma said the two leaders will remain in custody until a new government is formed and what he calls “proper security conditions” are in place.

He said the country does not have a working government, and security will only be restored through the constitutional arrangements created with the ECOWAS team.

AU Commission chairman Ping also said Tuesday that the coup leaders are trying to arbitrarily halt an ongoing election process. The runoff election was to replace the late president, Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in January after a long illness.

Former prime minister Gomes was to oppose Kumba Yala, a former president who has had strong ties to the military. Mr. Gomes won the first round of voting, but fell just short of a majority and an outright victory.

On Monday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed “grave concern” about the crisis in Guinea-Bissau.

The country has endured decades of instability marked by numerous coups and coup attempts and the assassination of President Joao Bernardo Vieria in 2009 by renegade soldiers. Guinea-Bissau has also become a transit point for international drug traffickers.