Fighting erupted between two factions of Guinea Bissau’s armed forces early on Monday in the capital Bissau, forcing the prime minister to seek refuge at a foreign embassy, witnesses and a diplomat told Reuters.
By late afternoon, the fighting had ceased but the situation remained tense as armed soldiers mounted roadblocks at various key places.
Bissau army chief of staff told a news conference that the army and the government of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior were in control of the situation.
“A group of soldiers had tried to question the status of peace prevailing in the country, in fact to reverse the situation,” General Antonio Indjai said at the news conference attended by Bissau’s defence and interior ministers Baciro Dia and Fernando Gomes.
Indjai declined to give details adding that more would be revealed soon.
Guinea Bissau President Malam Bacai Sanha is recovering from a medical procedure in Paris. His illness and his departure for France in late November raised worries about a possible military takeover in a country that has suffered repeated coups and political assassinations.
Residents had said earlier that automatic weapons and rocket fire were heard at the army headquarters while sporadic gun shots were also heard at other places around the capital.
The fighting forced the country’s prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior, who is the current head of government in the absence of the president, to temporarily seek refuge at a foreign embassy, a diplomat told Reuters.
A Guinea Bissau security source who asked not to be named said the fighting broke out after the army chief of staff was arrested on the orders of the head of the navy, but was later freed by his troops.
The head of the navy, Rear-Admiral Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, denied any knowledge of an order to arrest the chief of staff.
“For a week now, I have been spending nights at my home, not at the barracks. I was informed of the situation, I had no idea what is going on,” Tchuto told journalists.
Another security source who requested not to be named said one person was killed during the fighting, several others were wounded while at least 30 people had been arrested.
The source said Rear-Admiral Tchuto and two other generals were among those arrested, but Bissau authorities declined to answer when asked about the arrests or casualties during the news conference.
Stability remains fragile in the former Portuguese colony on the West African coast after years of turmoil, fuelled by the military’s meddling in politics.
International drug trafficking networks have also taken advantage of the weak government and corruption to turn the country, whose main legal export is cashew nuts, into one of West Africa’s transit points for Latin American cocaine headed to Europe.