BISSAU Guinea-Bissau's military junta said on Wednesday it would hand power fully back to civilians in two years, after elections that will be set by a soon-to-be-named caretaker government.
The announcement came after broad international condemnation of the West African state's shadowy "Military Command", which seized power last week and cut short a presidential election by detaining its front-runner, Carlos Gomes Junior.
The former Portuguese colony has seen several coups and army revolts since independence in 1974. The latest coup was a blow to efforts by Western donors to reduce military meddling in the country's politics and counter the influence of drug-trafficking cartels using Guinea-Bissau as a transshipment point.
"The restoration of power to civilians will happen little by little," military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Daha Bana na Walna told reporters after the Military Command issued a decree dissolving the country's public institutions and announcing a "transition period that will last two years."
The decree said that a civilian-led council would soon be formed to guide the transition process to simultaneous presidential and legislative elections.
The plan was signed by 19 political parties, but not Guinea- Bissau's biggest one, PAIGC.
Former Prime Minister Gomes Junior is a member of the PAIGC and was expected to win a presidential election run-off on April 29 before it was pre-empted by the coup.
Gomes Junior was unpopular with military chiefs because he backed plans to reform the bloated army, which is accused by Western security agencies of involvement in drug-trafficking.
The junta has said it acted to head off what it alleged was a secret pact between Gomes Junior and Angola, which had been providing military trainers and advisers, to "annihilate Guinea-Bissau's armed forces".
The African Union suspended Guinea-Bissau on Tuesday and West African regional bloc ECOWAS has insisted Gomes Junior be released and "constitutional order" restored.
Guinea-Bissau's coup was the second in West Africa in less than a month. A March 22 military takeover in Mali left that Sahel country split in two, with Tuareg and Islamist rebels holding the north.
Many residents of the capital Bissau were leaving the city for the interior or to offshore islands due to fears of increasing instability.
A boat carrying more than 20 passengers fleeing Bissau capsized late on Tuesday, killing ten people including five children, according to a port official.
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Mark Heinrich)