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Guinea Bissau Civil War
ECOMOG Operations (June 1998-April 1999)

The military conflict that took place in Guinea-Bissau from June 1998 to early 1999 was a bloody civil war that created hundreds of thousands of displaced persons. Government forces backed by neighboring states fought coup forces which had quickly gained almost total control over the country's armed forces. The conflict resulted in the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of people.

It caused severe damage to the country's infrastructure and widely disrupted economic activity. The proximate cause of the conflict can be traced to allegations of the smuggling of illegal arms into the country. Agricultural production is estimated to have fallen by 17% during the conflict, and the civil war led to a 28% overall drop in gross domestic product (GDP) in 1998. In 2009 Guinea-Bissau made progress stabilizing its economy. Economic growth was low at 3%, reflecting political instability and an unfavorable external environment, but inflation slowed and budgetary stability was regained.

The Guinea-Bissau Civil War, fought from 07 June 1998 to 10 May 1999, was triggered by Brigadier-General Ansumane Mané's coup d'état attempt against the government of President João Bernardo Vieira. Before the June rebellion, President Vieira pursued a policy of isolating himself from all but an inner circle of advisors and attempted to concentrate power both in the ruling PAIGC and in the Government directly in his own hands. Viera had ruled the country since taking power in a 1980 coup, and was elected President in the country's first multiparty elections in 1994. There were alleged coup plots against the Vieira government in 1983, 1985, and 1993. In 1986, first Vice President Paulo Correia and five others were executed for treason following a lengthy trial. In 1994, the country's first multi-party legislative and presidential elections were held.

The army uprising against the Vieira government in June 1998 resulted in President Joao Bernardo Vieira having to request assistance from the governments of Senegal and Guinea, who provided troops to quell the uprising. In June 1998, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) used the ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) to intervene in Guinea-Bissau. ECOMOG repulsed the rebellion by the former Chief of the Defense Staff of the country and restored to power the legitimate President. This intervention operation was in response to a legitimate request by the president.

Following Portugal's April 1974 revolution, it granted independence to Guinea-Bissau on September 10, 1974. The United States recognized the new nation that day. Luis Cabral, Amilcar Cabral's half-brother, became president of Guinea-Bissau. The new republics of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde were ruled from Praia, the capital of Cape Verde. The president of Bissau was the Cape Verdean Luis Cabral; the party chief was the president of Cape Verde, Aristides Pereira. In the fall of 1980, Guinea-Bissau was to get a new constitution, under which unification of the two republics into one country was to take place, as planned under the Statute of PAIGC. This constitution provided that government power in Bissau would no longer be vested in a minister-president, but a president. Black Guineans would have lost the last chance for co-determination.

Guinea-Bissau, for centuries a Portuguese colony, was in danger of becoming a possession of Cape Verde. Cape Verdeans, like Luis Cabral, are mulattos, descendants of African slaves and Portuguese who centuries ago had ended up on these islands, a 1,000km in the Atlantic. Cape Verdeans felt that their ties were less with Africa than with Europe and America: more than 400,000 of them live there, and only 200,000 on the islands themselves. The 850,000 blacks in Guinea-Bissau felt themselves patronized, ignored and exploited by the mulattos. The new constitutional plan finally led to an uprising on the mainland.

In late 1980, the government was overthrown in a relatively bloodless coup led by Prime Minister and former armed forces commander Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira. Minister-President Joao Bernardo Vieira, a brigadier general who had become popular under the alias "Nino" as a military leader of the guerrilla fight against Portugal, struck. The army, although infiltrated by 300-500 Soviets, and some 30 Cuban instructors and advisers, obeyed the popular "Nino". Soldiers surrounded the Hotel "24th of September" in Bissau, where about 100 of these officers lived, and arrested Luis Cabral and other Cape Verdeans. On l0 November 1980 Guinea-Bissau won its third independence, independence from the Cape Verde islands. A year later, Cabral was sent to Cuba in exile.

From November 1980 to May 1984, power was held by a provisional government responsible to a Revolutionary Council headed by President Joao Bernardo Vieira. In 1984, the council was dissolved, and the National Popular Assembly (ANP) was reconstituted. The single-party assembly approved a new constitution, elected President Vieira to a new 5-year term, and elected a Council of State, which was the executive agent of the ANP. Under this system, the president presided over the Council of State and served as head of state and government. The president also was head of the PAIGC and commander in chief of the armed forces.

There were alleged coup plots against the Vieira government in 1983, 1985, and 1993. The most notable event of 1986 in Guinea-Bissau was the so-called "October conspiracy" against the established government, and the sentencing of those involved, of which 12 were given the death sentence; six of those sentenced were later pardoned, and the others were executed, despite the appeals of various worldwide agencies that the death sentence be commuted. First Vice President Paulo Correia and five others were executed for treason following a lengthy trial. In 1994, the country's first multi-party legislative and presidential elections were held.

In January 1998 allegations of the smuggling of illegal arms into the country resulted in the suspension of the country’s Chief of Defense Staff Mene from his post for dereliction of duty. Opposition members in the country capitalized on the affair and blamed the government for its structural failure and demanded that the National Assembly of the country establish a committee to investigate the allegation of arms trafficking. Even though the committee’s report was due by June 1998, the findings were not disclosed until 13 April 1999. Some of the key findings of the report, far from endorsing the suspension of Mene, blamed high ranking officers in the security forces. The report further implied that President Vieira was aware of the trade deal but was unable, or unwilling, to intervene.

Before the committee could released the report, the former Chief of the Defense Staff Mene preempted it and publicly accused the President of agreeing to the arms smuggling. Subsequently, on 06 June 1998, President Vieira appointed Brigadier General Humbert Gomes to replace the suspended Chief of Defense Staff. General Ansumane Mane began a rebellion after Vieira fired him as Armed Forces Chief of Staff and blamed him for illegal arms trafficking to rebels in the Casamance region of Senegal. The following day, the dismissed Chief of Staff, and about 400 rebels, attacked and captured the Bra Military Barracks Complex and the country’s airport in the capital city of Bissau. Mene proclaimed himself head of an interim military council, the Junta Militar, and called for fresh and transparent elections.

The elected government of President Joao Bernardo Vieira ceased to exercise de facto control over most of Guinea-Bissau. The 06 June 1998 military rebellion led by Army Chief of Staff Ansumane Mane enjoyed wide popular support. The immediate response was for the loyal troops to counter attack. The conflict assumed an international dimension when on 10 June 1998, three days after the fighting had begun, Senegal and Guinea dispatched 1,300 and 500 troops, respectively, to fight on the part of the government. Despite the intervention of Senegalese and Guinean troops in support of the Vieira Government, rebel troops and their civilian sympathizers quickly seized control over most of the country. The Vieira Government exercised effective control only over portions of the capital and the Bijagos Islands.

The unilateral efforts of the two countries were short lived as they were matched by the determined rebels. The international community, under the auspices of the UN, EU, and AU, condemned the rebel activities and began a series of diplomatic moves to resolve the crisis. Eventually, the mantle fell on ECOWAS and a number of mediation committees undertook a series of talks to resolve the conflict.

The armed forces were responsible for external security and may be called upon to assist the police in internal emergencies. A clear majority of soldiers joined the rebellion against President Vieira. Those who remained loyal, numbering no more than 300, generally took a secondary role to Senegalese and Guinean troops who entered the conflict at Vieira's request. ECOMOG peacekeeping forces were introduced and all Senegalese and Guinean troops were withdrawn by the end of March as agreed in the Abuja accords. ECOMOG forces were withdrawn in June following the defeat of loyalist forces and Vieira's departure to exile. The police, the military (both loyal and rebel), the Senegalese, and the Guineans were responsible for serious human rights abuses.

Prior to the outbreak of hostilities in June 1998, the print media consisted of one independent daily, three independent weeklies, one government-owned biweekly, and one independent monthly. All of the newspapers were published sporadically due to financial constraints. The national printing press, the only facility for publishing newspapers in the country, often lacked the raw materials to publish them. In late August, sporadic publication of one government-owned biweekly and one independent monthly resumed.

Prior to the rebellion, there were three independent radio stations and one government-controlled station in Bissau. In addition Radio Portugal and Radio France International broadcasts were received from Lisbon and Paris. There were also three community radio stations run by the indigenous NGO Action for Development. One independent station rebroadcast the British Broadcasting Corporation and another rebroadcast the Voice of America.

The government-controlled national radio transmits from Radio Mavegro facilities that it took over in June 1998. The Voice of the Military Junta broadcasts from facilities that formerly broadcast Radio Bombolom, whose owner sympathized with the rebels. Neither Radio Pidjiguiti nor the NGO-assisted community stations have resumed operations.

Prior to the June 1998 uprising, the Government generally did not restrict movement within the country, foreign travel, or emigration; however, checkpoints and police harassment occurred frequently. After the outbreak of fighting, vehicle traffic was curtailed severely. Both government and rebel forces blocked the road from Bissau to the interior and interfered with the free movement of traffic. The Government carefully controlled movement within Bissau, prohibiting most traffic. Movement in the interior was less restricted but still subject to occasional interference by both government and rebel forces.

The land borders with Senegal were closed to travelers during the early stages of the conflict. Later, Senegal allowed humanitarian convoys to transit the border. Land borders with Guinea generally remained open. The national airport, which had remained under rebel control after the outbreak of fighting, was reopened to commercial traffic in May 1999.

Finally, on 01 November 1998, under the auspices of ECOWAS, the two main contenders, President Vieira and Mene signed the Abuja Agreement. The agreement required the formation of a government of national unity including members of the Junta, followed in March 1999 by legislative and presidential elections to be monitored by ECOWAS and the international community. It also required that Senegalese and Guinean troops who had been fighting alongside the government, were to be replaced by an ECOMOG force.

President Vieira was ousted by the military junta in May 1999. An interim government turned over power in February 2000 when opposition leader Kumba Yala, founder of the Social Renovation Party (PRS), took office following two rounds of transparent presidential elections. Despite the elections, democracy did not take root in the succeeding 3 years. President Yala neither vetoed nor promulgated the new constitution that was approved by the National Assembly in April 2001. The resulting ambiguity undermined the rule of law. Impulsive presidential interventions in ministerial operations hampered effective governance.

The president was ousted by a military junta in May 1999. The military coup in May resulted in minor changes in the Government of National Unity that was set up in February 1999 under the November 1998 Abuja peace accords, drove President Bernardo Vieira into exile in Portugal, and ultimately led to the country's second multiparty national elections on November 28.

General Mane played a role in the interim government as the head of a self-declared military junta. Mane and the Junta consistently declared that they would stay out of politics once a new civilian government was elected, but 2 weeks before the elections a "Magna Carta" was published demanding a 10-year role for the Junta. The Junta denied authoring the "Magna Carta" and repeated its commitment to return to the barracks after the elections; however, adequate and timely payment of soldier and veteran benefits is a continuing concern.

The Government of National Unity inaugurated in February 1999 conducted the November elections with the assistance of a UN peace-building office (UNOGBIS) in accordance with a schedule established prior to the May coup, and initiated efforts to reverse the civil war's devastating effects. The November elections were considered generally free and fair by international observers, although they reported some irregularities. The elections significantly changed the composition of the 102-seat National Assembly, and the top two contenders among 12 candidates for President faced a runoff election on January 16, 2000. An interim government turned over power in February 2000 when opposition leader Kumba Yala, founder of the Social Renovation Party (PRS), took office following two rounds of transparent presidential elections.

Following the May coup, the Government detained as prisoners of war about 600 of the loyalist forces who had defended Vieira; 180 of these soldiers were released immediately, and another 50 were released within a month. More than 385 remain in detention. On 07 October 1999, the Attorney General announced that 80 of these would be released soon, but they remained in detention at year's end.

The Government does not use forced exile. Following the May coup, the Military Junta allowed President Vieira safe passage to leave the country for Gambia to receive medical treatment, reportedly with the understanding he would return to Guinea-Bissau to stand trial on charges of corruption and human rights abuses. After leaving the country, Vieira traveled to Portugal and was granted asylum. In October, the Attorney General traveled to Portugal to present evidence of human rights abuses by Vieira and to request his return to Guinea-Bissau to stand trial.

In November 1999 voters were able to choose their government freely for the second time in the nation's history. The African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), the country's only legal party from 1974 to 1991 and the majority party in the National Assembly until the November elections, won 24 of the 102 seats in the National Assembly, while opposition parties gained a majority. The Partido de Renovacao Social (PRS) won 38 seats, and the Resistencia da Guine-Bissau (RGB) won 29 seats, while 4 other parties will split the remaining 11 seats. The elections, which included candidates from 13 parties, as well as several independents, were judged to be generally free and fair by international observers, although they reported some irregularities.

On August 10, 2005 Joao Bernardo Vieira was declared the winner of a July 24 presidential runoff election over Malam Bacai Sanha in an election judged by international observers to be free and fair. President Vieira was inaugurated on October 1, 2005. Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior refused to accept Vieira's victory, and on October 28, Vieira dismissed Gomes and his government. Five days later, he installed former PAIGC official Aristide Gomes as Prime Minister.

Throughout 2006, President Vieira struggled to maintain control over the National Assembly and the general operations of the government. In early March 2007, the three main political parties--the PAIGC, the PRS, and the PUSD--agreed to push for a "government of consensus" in the interests of parliamentary stability. President Vieira refused to accept the decision, and on March 19 the National Popular Assembly passed a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Aristide Gomes. President Vieira was then faced with the decision of dissolving the government and calling for new elections or appointing a new prime minister. Prime Minister Gomes resigned on March 29. In early April 2007, after much resistance, President Vieira accepted the appointment of Martinho Ndafa Cabi as the new Prime Minister.

In February 2008, the PAIGC withdrew support of Prime Minister Martinho Ndafa Cabi, and the March legislative elections were postponed. By July, the PAIGC pulled out of the political "government of consensus" coalition days before the Supreme Court ruled that the extension of parliament's mandate was unconstitutional, thus triggering President Vieira to dissolve parliament and remove Prime Minister Cabi. President Vieira appointed Carlos Correia as new prime minister.

On March 1, 2009, Armed Forces General Tagme Na Wai was killed in a bomb blast at the military headquarters. The following morning, President Joao Bernardo Vieira was killed by a group of soldiers at the presidential palace. National Assembly Speaker Raimundo Pereira became interim president March 3 under the nation's constitution.

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Page last modified: 07-05-2017 19:08:06 ZULU