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ECOWAS Sends Delegation to Guinea-Bissau Following President's Assassination

The chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua of Nigeria has expressed sadness over the assassination of President Joao Bernardo Vieira and his chief of staff General Batista Tagme Na Waie. In a statement, the ECOWAS chairman emphasized the importance of constitutional succession to the presidency.

President Yar'Adua also called on Guinea Bissau's armed forces and other security agencies to desist from any further actions likely to plunge the country into further lawlessness and political instability.

ECOWAS Executive Secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas told VOA the sub-regional body is sending a delegation to Guinea-Bissau Tuesday.

"The chairman of ECOWAS, President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua announced that he was dispatching a delegation comprising the foreign ministers of Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, The Gambia, and Senegal accompanied by the President of ECOWAS Commission on Tuesday, March third to go to Guinea-Bissau to engage all Guinean stakeholders in an effort to restore confidence among the political actors, civil society and security services and return the country to constitutional normalcy," he said.

Senior military officers in Guinea-Bissau said Monday night that the killing of President Vieira was not a part of a coup attempt.

Chambas said it was fair to characterize developments in Guinea-Bissau as an assassination. He said ECOWAS, the African Union and the international community would not accept any attempt by the Guinea-Bissau military to seize power.

"There has not been any move by the military to take over power. The military spokesperson who read the communiqué has indicated indeed that it is not an attempted coup d'état, and that in a sense is welcomed news in an otherwise very charged and an unfortunate. Of course a coup d'état will not be accepted. The chairman of ECOWAS has strongly condemned the assassinations, but what is also absolutely clear is that the entire region and indeed all of Africa will strongly resist any attempt by the military to take over power at this time," Chambas said.

He said the ECOWAS delegation was going to Guinea-Bissau to send a strong message to the military that any seizure of power would be unacceptable, and that ECOWAS would like to see constitutional normalcy restored as soon as possible.

Chambas denied ECOWAS did not follow up on its threats to the military junta in Guinea when they seized power following the death of President Lansana Conte.

"The strong warning and ECOWAS position in Guinea has been isolation not only by ECOWAS but by Africa, and the rest of the world has taken cue from the African Union and ECOWAS position and also strongly condemned the regime. So I think that the military in Guinea-Bissau would be well-advised not to go that path because it would lead them to isolation, it would lead them to strong condemnation, and it would lead them to where they would be held accountable for any lost of life that would ensue in Guinea-Bissau," Chambas said.

He said Monday's assassinations of President Vieira and his chief of staff were not surprising to ECOWAS.

"Any person who is remotely familiar with the developments in Guinea-Bissau over the last few years could not have been surprised by what happened, and certainly we were not. We do have a representation office in Guinea-Bissau; we are working and have been working very closely with all the stakeholders, political parties, civil society, especially the security services to try and bring the country to stability, peace and security with difficulties," he said.

Chambas said one of the two main threats that have confronted Guinea-Bissau has been the lack of serious security sector reform. He said Monday's assassinations have moved the issue to the forefront of reform in Guinea-Bissau.

He refuted any notion that developments in Guinea and now Guinea-Bissau could be an indication that West Africa could be moving away from the path to democracy.

"Guinea and Guinea-Bissau are the exceptions. They are two countries in a region of 15 countries. But they are not surprised cases. Guinea even before the death of President Conte was never one of those countries that were on the path of reform. Guinea-Bissau has also been tottering on instability for some time now. Perhaps the challenges that they face now would rally all of us to want to put the necessary pressure on them but also give constructive the support that they would require to join the rank of other ECOWAS countries on the path of building democracy, on the path of improving governance, on the path of really ensuring real peace and stability," Chambas said.