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ECOWAS sanctions Guinea Bissau, threatens force

May 2, 2012, 1:50 PM | Article By: Lamin B. Darboe

West African regional bloc ECOWAS said on Monday that it has slapped sanctions on leaders of Guinea Bissau’s military, who this month staged a coup in Bissau, threatening that it would use force to dislodge them, after talks in Banjul geared towards finding a lasting solution to the crisis in the country failed.

“The rejection of the position of the Regional Contact Group means that the imposition of sanctions referred to above had kicked in at midnight on 29th April 2012,” a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting between ECOWAS, junta representatives and other stakeholders at the Kairaba Beach Hotel said.

According to the ECOWAS communiqué, General Antonio Indjai, whom it named as the head of the junta, was not willing to negotiate and clearly prefers to face the consequences, claiming that ECOWAS was just playing games.

“After more than twelve hours of negotiations, it became obvious that the Contact Group was negotiating with only one person – General Antonio Indjai – the Chief of Defense Staff of Guinea Bissau, the Head of the Junta,” the communiqué added.

Guinea-Bissau has been run by soldiers since an April 12 coup that derailed presidential elections, and set back Western efforts to combat drug cartels using the country as a transit hub for cocaine bound for Europe.

The communiqué said in the event that the military command and also other stakeholders reject the position of the ECOWAS Authority within 72 hours (midnight 29th April), ECOWAS will impose targeted sanctions on members of the junta and their associates, impose diplomatic, economic, and financial sanctions on Guinea Bissau and take all other measures to ensure the implementation of summit decisions on Guinea Bissau.

The communiqué said heads of state from the regional grouping would meet on May 3 to take all other necessary measures including the use of force to enforce the decisions of the summit.

Representatives of the junta rejected an ECOWAS demand that it hand over power to civilians through new elections within a year, and that interim President Raimundo Pereira, arrested in the coup, be reinstated during the transition.

Reports stated that Pereira was released by soldiers on Friday along with former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, the front-runner in the presidential polls before they were pre-empted.

President Yahya Jammeh, who opened the Banjul meeting, said the military in Bissau have to make a choice.

“We are here to tell you that, as a last resort, for you to choose between a peaceful resolution with ECOWAS and yourselves or ECOWAS will take measures to put an end to what is going on in Bissau,” Jammeh said.

Noting that ECOWAS will not allow less than 10% of the population in Bissau to hold the people of Guinea Bissau at gunpoint, and at ransom, the Gambian leader said “we all have problems, we all have divergent of views”, but stressed that “enough is enough”.

“You cannot solve all problems by violence or by the barrel of the gun. This is unacceptable. So we have a choice,” he added.

“We have nothing against the people of Guinea Bissau; ECOWAS is here to help you solve your problems, but I can also assure you that ECOWAS’s patience is running out,” Jammeh told stakeholders, questioning the number of deaths of presidents and army chiefs in Guinea for the past seven years.