The political crisis in Guinea-Bissau has escalated in the aftermath of failed regional talks aimed at re-instating civilian rule. The region's main bloc has imposed sanctions and threatened further measures.
West Africa's main political and economic bloc imposed sanctions against Guinea-Bissau on Monday, after negotiations with the country's military junta broke down, raising the prospect of a military confrontation.
Representatives of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had met with members Guinea-Bissau's junta in the Gambian capital of Banjul on Sunday in a bid to negotiate an end to the former Portuguese colony's political crisis.
Interlocutors for the junta, however, rejected demands for elections to be set within 12 months and for interim President Raimundo Pereira, who had been arrested by the military, to be re-instated to oversee the transition. The collapse of the talks resulted in the imposition of sanctions.
"These are targeted sanctions against junta leaders and diplomatic, economic and financial sanctions against the country," an ECOWAS official told the news agency Reuters. "They went into effect at midnight, last night."
Both Pereira and former prime minister Carlos Gomez Junior were released from military detention on Friday and left the country for Ivory Coast.
Military officers seized power in an April 12 coup, weeks before the second round of a presidential election in which Gomez was the favorite. ECOWAS officials have indicated that the leader of the junta's enigmatic "Military Command" is General Antonio Indjai, the country's army chief.
"The junta delegation was repeatedly calling Indjai during the talks to get guidance on what to do," the ECOWAS official, who attended the talks but asked not to be named, told Reuters. "It was very frustrating, but (it) made clear who was in charge."
'All necessary measures'
During an April 26 summit in Ivory Coast, ECOWAS decided to send a force of between 500 and 600 troops to help maintain order and facilitate a transition back to civilian rule in Guinea-Bissau. The junta accepted the deployment of the troops, which will replace a 650-strong Angola force currently stationed there, under the threat of sanctions.
The seven foreign ministers who attended the negotiations in Gambia said they would report back to the head of the Guinea-Bissau regional contact group, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, pending a higher level meeting in early May.
"A meeting will be convened at the level of the heads of state on 3rd May, to take all other necessary measures, including the use of force to enforce the decisions of the summit," ECOWAS said in release.
Guinea-Bissau, which won its independence from Portugal in 1974, has suffered numerous crises. Since 1998, the country has been through a civil war, a series of coups and the murder of a president. The small West African nation of 1.6 million people has become the staging point for Latin American drug cartels shipping narcotics to Europe.
slk/ipj (AFP, Reuters)