ECOWAS warns against violence in Guinea Bissau poll

By Manoah Esipisu

SIRTE, Libya, July 4 (Reuters) - A West African peace mediation group on Monday warned candidates in Guinea Bissau's presidential election run-off not to provoke violence, saying any trouble could hurt regional stability.

In an interview with Reuters, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) executive secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas also urged Guinea Bissau's military to remain neutral ahead of the vote amid fears that support by the armed forces for any candidate could spark civilian unrest.

"No one should use provocative language. No one should do anything that would inflame passions and lead to violence which would undermine democracy in Guinea Bissau," Chambas said on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Libya.

"We call on Guinea Bissau's military to remain as neutral as it has been ... Any support for a candidate or the perception that it wanted to be involved in politics would hurt democracy and efforts to rebuild strong governance credentials," he said.

Two former leaders -- Malam Bacai Sanha and Joao Bernardo Vieira -- will contest the run-off vote in the West African state that gained independence from Portugal in 1974. The ballot is meant to restore democratic rule two years after a coup.

No candidate won an outright majority in the first round of the election on June 19, raising fears of violence in a country which has been shaken by uprisings and war since independence from Portugal in 1974.

In the first round of the vote, Sanha, of the main PAIGC party, came first with 35 percent of the vote while former military ruler Vieira, also known as "Nino", snared 29 percent.

Guinea-Bissau's ousted leader Kumba Yala of the Social Renewal Party, who came third with 25 percent, initially rejected the result but has since said he will back one-time arch rival Vieira in the run-off. Campaigning will start on July 8 and end on July 22.

"We urge whoever wins the elections to be magnanimous in victory and the loser to accept the will of the people. That is the way of democracy," Chambas said.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, chairman of the 53-member African Union and a major ECOWAS power, backed Chambas on Monday, telling his fellow leaders at a summit: "We call on all the people of Guinea Bissau to continue to eschew violence and disturbance."

Obasanjo said Guinea Bissau would need help from Africans and rich countries with reconstruction after the polls.

Commenting on conflicts in West Africa, Chambas said last week's re-commitment to the peace process by President Laurent Gbagbo and his Ivory Coast opponents had brought fresh hope that the conflict in the former French colony could be fixed by the end of the year, returning the country to stability.

Progress towards peace in the Ivory Coast would inspire states emerging from conflict like Liberia and Sierra Leone, all looking to neighbours like Ivory Coast to help them along.

Gbagbo and Ivorian rebels agreed at a meeting in South Africa last week to a new disarmament deadline of mid-August, which would pave the way to presidential elections in October. Liberia has planned its own elections for the same month.

"We were frankly starting to get very worried when once again there as a lull in the process. We hope this time all the Ivorian parties will meet their obligations," he said.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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