The executive head of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS says the junta in Guinea- Bissau has agreed to hand back power and return the country to constitutional rule soon.
The President of the ECOWAS Commission, Desire Kadre Ouedraogo, said Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who chairs the regional bloc, will take steps with other parties to return Guinea-Bissau to constitutional rule in the coming days. He was speaking after talks in the capital Bissau but gave no specific timeline.
Soldiers in Guinea-Bissau, who have a reputation of meddling in the country's politics, seized power last Thursday and arrested the country's interim president and a former prime minister, cutting short an unfinished presidential election.
Presidential hopeful still in detention
Ouedraogo said ECOWAS insisted in the meeting with the junta that the release of the two officials detained during the coup was an essential step toward a return to constitutional order.
Soldiers continue to detain ex-premier and presidential front-runner Carlos Gomes Junior and interim President Raimundo Pereira following assaults on their homes last week.
Gomes Junior came close to winning an outright majority in a first-round presidential vote last month and a second-round run-off had been set for April 29.
Over the last few days, the coup leaders have faced increasing isolation as their intervention was condemned by the African Union, the United Nations and the United States. The Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, to which Guinea-Bissau belongs, has threatened to impose sanctions if the country does not restore constitutional order.
Echoes of 2010
For ex-foreign minister Mamadou Djalo Pires the blame for the coup rests with one person: the head of the country's armed forces General Antonio Indjai.
"We know that there is a self-styled military command, which claims that General Antonio Indjai was arrested, but that is just farcical," Pires said. "Indjai was behind the coup."
The events of the last few days are reminiscent of an abortive uprising in 2010. A junta led by Indjai took the same prime minister, Carlos Gomes Junior, captive but then released him several hours later in the face of international pressure. However, Zamora Induta, military chief of staff at the time, was toppled by his own troops and kept in prison for months.
Military resists reform
It appears the military in Guinea Bissau can do more or less what they like with impunity. Normally such conduct would lead to demotion and a jail term, but not in Guinea Bissau where Indjai, deputy head of the general staff and one of the plotters, had himself promoted to commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Relations between Indjai and Carlos Gomes Junior have been tense ever since. Paulo Gorjao, an analyst with the Lisbon-based Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security (IPRIS), says there is a sort of truce between the two.
"Indjai tolerated Carlos Gomes Junior, but in the meantime the prime minister has acquired great prestige and influence in the international community, which was not in the military's interest. So it was only question of time before there would be another coup," he believes.
The government of Carlos Gomes Junior has tried over the last few years to reform the military with outside help. But Indjai's appointment as head of the armed forces prompted a European Union mission to pull out of Guinea-Bissau in 2010, removing eight security advisors.
More recently, Angola, another former Portuguese colony, said ít was thinking of removing its 200-strong military mission. Despite these setbacks, the government of Carlos Gomes Junior showed that it was determined to maintain an international mission for the reform of the armed forces in the country.
It is possible that the recent coup may have been triggered by the military's fear of losing their autonomy. The illegal drug trade, often blamed for political instability in the past, was probably on this occasion of little significance.
Author: Mark Caldwell (AFP, Reuters, with additional material from Johannes Beck)
Editor: Daniel Pelz/ rm