Guinea-Bissau standoff ends as soldiers sign deal
Soldiers who staged a mutiny last week in Guinea-Bissau agreed on Sunday to return to their barracks after striking a deal with the government to end a five-day standoff in the West African country.
Angry soldiers demanding back pay for peacekeeping duty in Liberia seized key buildings in the capital last Wednesday and killed the head of the former Portuguese colony's armed forces, General Verissimo Correia Seabra, and another officer.
The impoverished country has been unstable since a bloody army revolt in 1998 and the government has acknowledged that a major overhaul of the armed forces was needed to avert further violence.
"The two parties agreed it was not a coup d'etat. We have agreed to the immediate return of the soldiers to barracks and the respect of the constitutional order, democratically and legally established," said a statement signed by Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior and General Batista Tagme Na Waie.
They agreed to restructure the army, ask parliament to consider an amnesty for soldiers dating back to when the country's first president was ousted in a 1980 coup, and press the United Nations for cash to clear the salary arrears.
"We never wished for the death of our two colleagues. We regret our acts. Nevertheless, the mutiny served as an example for the future of the army," said General Na Waie, with tears in his eyes after the signing.
Senior representatives from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Portuguese-speaking nations (CPLP) had jetted to the tiny country bordering Senegal and Guinea to seek an end to the crisis.
"I am pleased that the parties have signed this agreement but we will have to wait and see whether there will be a repeat of last week's events," said Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta, who is foreign minister of former Portuguese colony East Timor.
"The situation is serious in Guinea-Bissau, not just on an economic and social level ... the political situation is also very serious," he said before the deal. "There are lots of political parties but they are not up to improving stability."
Residents in one of the world's poorest countries, where people scrape by on $140 each a year from fishing and cashew nut exports, expressed dismay at yet another military uprising.
More than a hundred women sang peace songs and wept outside the Foreign Ministry in Bissau city where the talks took place, just across from the first presidential palace which is still in ruins after the 1998 army revolt.
Hundreds of mourners attended the burial of Seabra and the second army officer on Sunday where first lady Maria Rosa Robalo appealed for an end to the violence.
"Let's forget about protocol today. We must love each other. We must stop killing each other," she said.