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ECOWAS sends fact-finding mission to Guinea-Bissau after president assassinated
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16:58, March 04, 2009

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A fact-finding delegation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is in Guinea-Bissau after the West African country's head of state and army chief were assassinated.

According to a communique released by the West African bloc, the team arrived in Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau, on Tuesday "to inquire about the situation" gripping the instability-plagued country after the recent assassinations.

The delegation is composed of ECOWAS Inter-parliamentary Committee President Melegue Traore, Vice President Abdourahmane Sow and the diplomatic adviser to the ECOWAS Commission President Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Amadou Diop.

ECOWAS officials will "accompany Guinea-Bissau to overcome this hard test, in respect of the constitutional order, democracy, in peace and liberty," the communique said.

The ECOWAS Commission, which "strongly condemns those odious acts of violence" expressed condolences to the people of Guinea-Bissau and made "an appeal to civilian and military authorities for calm, the maintaining and scrupulous respect of the constitutional order," the communique added.

Officials in Bissau had previously said ECOWAS President Mohamed Ibn Chambas was scheduled to head a team of foreign ministers from Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia and Senegal on a mission to restore constitutional normalcy and confidence among politicians, civil society and security services.

The regional group, which denounced the killings as " assassinating democracy," has become anxious about the rise of military coup after suspending Mauritania and Guinea where the military junta seized power respectively in August and December.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, a power broker in conflicts of neighboring Guinea-Bissau, warned on Tuesday that the military factions may move to an ethnic war if they fail to reconcile themselves.

Wade supported Guinea-Bissau President Joao Bernado Vieira during the 1998-1999 civil war and in a failed coup attempt in November, when renegade soldiers launched a pre-dawn attack on Vieira's residence.

"These two factions have each created a military committee of liberation. It should be that these two factions reconcile themselves, " he said, adding otherwise the situation "will transform into an ethnic war as unfortunately the two military groups are ethnically polarized."

President Vieira from the minority Papel ethnic group had a tense relationship with the army dominated by officers from the majority Balanta ethnic group, including the armed forces chief of staff, Batista Tagme Na Wai, who was killed in an explosion that destroyed part of the military headquarters on Sunday evening, before President Vieira was assassinated early next day.

By the time the ECOWAS delegation arrived in Bissau, the military had pledged to obey the recently formed civilian government and the Constitution, ruling out the assassinations as a coup or coup attempt.

On Tuesday, Guinea-Bissau's parliamentary speaker Raimundo Pereira took oath as the country's interim president.

Under the Constitution, Pereira will server as interim president till a new leader is elected. The constitution requires that elections be held within two months.

The 32-member government led by Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, which was nominated by President Vieira in January, urged Prosecutor General Luis Manel Cabral to immediately create a commission to bring the killings to light.

The government announced a national mourning, vowing to give both President Vieira and army chief Na Wai full state honors.

Guinea-Bissau has long suffered from coups and coup attempts since its independence from Portugal in the 1970s.

The country of 1.5 million population is among the poorest in the world, being ranked the 175th out of 177 nations in the U.N. Development Program's Human Development Index.

With a jagged Atlantic coastline, the country is being used by traffickers as a major hub for the flow of cocaine from Latin America to Europe.

In November, Guinea-Bissau held a successful legislative election, which is widely seen as a hope to bring the country out of instability and the danger of becoming a lawless "Narco-state."


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