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Guinea-Bissau President Replaces Army Chief With Confidant

FILE - Guinea-Bissau's President Jose Mario Vaz speaks with journalists after a meeting with his Portuguese counterpart Anibal Cavaco Silva (not pictured) at Belem presidential palace in Lisbon, June 19, 2014.

Guinea-Bissau President Jose Mario Vaz has appointed a close confidant and head of the presidential guard as army chief to replace Antonio Indjai who was dismissed early this week, a statement said Wednesday.

No reason was given for the firing of Indjai, a powerful figure in the coup-prone former Portuguese colony. But Indjai has been targeted by U.S. authorities who have charged him with involvement in drug trafficking.

The appointment of General Biague Na Ntan, 61, an ethnic Balanta like Indjai, could smooth over any resentment from the ethnic group that makes up about 60 percent of the army and security forces and 25 percent of the population.

Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in Africa with an economy largely dependent on agriculture.

Smuggling accusations

The United States has raised concerns that the country has become part of a transatlantic smuggling route for arms and drugs.

Indjai had led the armed forces of the west African state since 2009 and staged a 2012 military coup.

The new army chief is a veteran of the country's war of independence from Portugal, and was formerly in charge of the customs security service before taking command of the presidential guard.

Vaz took office in June after winning elections that marked the return to civilian rule after Indjai's coup. He is under pressure to reform the armed forces, partly by retiring senior military officials, many of whom are accused of involvement in smuggling cocaine through Guinea-Bissau.