BISSAU, 18 July (IRIN) - Two security guards were killed and one was injured when a group of about 20 armed men in military uniform attacked the Interior Ministry in the capital of Guinea-Bissau before dawn on Saturday, Interior Minister Mumine Embalo said.
Embalo told reporters that four people were detained following the exchange of fire, two of whom were attackers captured in the heat of the engagement. The other two were suspects who were picked up afterwards, he added.
Brigadier General Armando Gomes, the army chief of staff, described the attack as "an isolated incident" provoked by people who wanted to disrupt the country's return to constitutional rule.
It came just one week before the second round of presidential elections on 24 July to return this small West African country to democracy following a bloodless coup in September 2003.
Malam Bacai Sanha, the official candidate of the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), who won the most
votes in the first round of the election on 19 June, is being challenged by former military ruler Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira, who was runner-up in the first ballot.
Neither of the two presidential candidates were willing to comment on the mystery attack on the Interior Ministry during the weekend.
Radio Bombolom, a popular privately owned radio station in Bissau, reported that the attackers were wearing uniforms of the parachute commando batallion based at Bissau airport. This has not been officially confirmed.
Gomes, the army commander, would only say that those involved in the attack were acting spontaneously outside the military command structure.
Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior condemned the attack on the Interior Ministry, adding that he failed to understand why anyone would commit such an act just one week before a crucial election.
This is the second time that dissident soldiers have tried to disrupt the presidential election.
On May 24, a group of soldiers who supported former president Kumba Yala, occupied the presidential palace for several hours after a similar pre-dawn raid, to demand that Yala, who was deposed in the 2003 coup, be reinstated. They left peacefully after a few hours.
The government said Yala himself took part in the occupation, but the former president, who has a reputation for being temperamental and unpredictable, later denied that he had anything to do with the incident.
Yala was knocked out of the current presidential election in the first round and subsequently threw his support behind Vieira.
The group of European observers which is monitoring the electoral process, issued a statement on Sunday condemning the attack on the Interior Ministry. A group of 60 more EU observers is due to arrive in Bissau on Tuesday to join 20 who are already in the country.
Officials at the UN Mission to Guinea-Bissau (UNGOBIS) declined to comment on the incident.
There is a long-standing culture of impunity for acts of violence committed by the military in Guinea-Bissau.
No-one has so far been charged or arrested in connection with a military uprising in October 2004, which resulted in the assassination of armed forces commander Verissimo Correia Seabra and one of his top aides.
Similarly, no-one has been arrested or charged in connection with the occupation of the presidency by Yala's supporters in May.
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