The African Union has condemned the killings of Guinea-Bissau's President Joao Bernado Vieira and his army chief, calling it a blatant attack on state institutions. But the continental body stopped short of suspending Guinea-Bissau's membership in the organization.
The AU Peace and Security Council met in emergency session Tuesday to determine whether the assassination of President Vieira constituted a military coup, which would have meant automatic suspension from the organization.
Two other west African nations, Mauritania and Guinea Conakry have recently been expelled from the continental body after army officers took power through extra-constitutional means.
Guinea-Bissau military chiefs say an 'isolated group' of soldiers was responsible for the president's death, and the speaker of parliament will temporarily take power.
Burkina Faso's AU ambassador Bruno Nongoma Zidouemba, who holds the council's rotating chairmanship, said Guinea-Bissau's case does not appear to meet the definition of a coup.
"The assassination of the president is a very unusual situation and sad situation, but there is a coup when the constitution is suspended or institutions of the country are suspended. It is a very sad step in the evolution of Guinea-Bissau, but from the information we have up to now, it is not considered a coup d'etat," he said.
Guinea Bissau has a history of coups and coup attempts. The most recent came after last November's parliamentary elections, when soldiers attacked the president's office. Two people were killed, but the attempt failed.
In the latest incident, Security Council Chairman Zidouemba says a constitutional transfer of power appears to be in the works. "We have heard a declaration of a group of officers, and this group of officers said they will act through the constitution, and if you read the constitution of Guinea-Bissau, normally the transition power should go to president of the national assembly. In the hours to come everything will be clear," he said.
The country's constitution calls for a presidential election to be held within 60 days.
Guinea-Bissau has become notorious as a transit point used by Latin American drug cartels for shipments of cocaine bound for Europe. Government estimates indicate as much as 800 kilograms of cocaine moves through the west African nation each week, making drug trafficking easily the largest foreign exchange earner.