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ECOWAS Urges Smooth Transfer of Power in Guinea Bissau

Malam Bacai Sanha, President of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, addresses the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters, in New York, September 2010. (file photo)

The top official of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is calling for a smooth constitutional transition in Guinea Bissau following the sudden death of President Malam Bacai Sanha. Mr. Sanha died Monday at the Val de Grace Hospital in Paris, where he was undergoing treatment.

Ambassador James Victor Gbeho, president of the ECOWAS Commission, expressed hope that the death of the country’s leader will not plunge the country into crisis.

Observers express concern Sanha’s death could create instability in this West African nation with a history of unrest and a hub of international drug trafficking.

“We are aware that because of the instability in his [Mr. Sanha] country recently, he hasn’t been able to do much because he has been checkmated by the military,” said Gbeho. “We hope that this sad event will not trigger a struggle for power in Guinea Bissau. And in that respect, we will keep the country under a close watch.”

He conveyed ECOWAS’ deepest sorrow to the government and the people of Guinea Bissau following the death of President Sanha.

Late last month, dozens of military personnel were arrested for involvement in a suspected coup attempt. Those arrested include the country's navy chief, Bubo Na Tchuto, who was accused of masterminding the plot.

Ambassador Gbeho said the sub-regional bloc’s diplomatic mission in Guinea Bissau is monitoring the situation to ensure an undisturbed transition of power.

“We are determined to succeed in Guinea Bissau [because] we have reason to accept that Guinea Bissau is making good progress in terms of bringing back democracy to that country,” continued Gbeho. “We hope that the good people [there] will continue with that effort until we totally subject the military to political control in that country.”

Guinea Bissau’s constitution stipulates that the speaker of parliament take over from the president and organize a presidential vote within 90 days.

“We will stand ready to give any assistance possible to Guinea Bissau in order to meet that challenge,” said Gbeho. “

He also said the West African bloc will work with other international partners to help ensure Guinea Bissau’s stability.

“We are going to do so in concert with the United Nations, the presence of the Angolans and the Association of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP). We are going to work closely together with them in order to achieve our objective.”