BISSAU (Reuters) - The European Union said on Thursday it does not recognize the recently-formed caretaker government in Guinea-Bissau which appears to be taking orders from the military junta.
The West African state, a narcotics trafficking hub to Europe, has been in turmoil since soldiers seized power on April 12, derailing a presidential election in the latest of a string of coups since independence from Portugal in 1974.
The junta said on May 22 it was handing power over to a civilian transitional government, led by regionally-backed interim President Manuel Sherifo Nhamadjo and charged with setting new elections within 12 months.
“The transitional government is not the result of a democratic process and is not inclusive,” Alexandre Polack, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told Reuters by email.
“Furthermore, it seems to remain under the control of the armed forces. Under the present circumstances, it is not possible to envisage the recognition of the transitional government,” he said.
The EU said in a statement it had strengthened sanctions against the junta, adding 15 individuals to a list of six banned from entering EU territory and subject to a freeze of their assets within the bloc.
The EU moves could prove an embarrassment to West African regional bloc ECOWAS, which brokered the transition deal, which has also been criticized by the United Nations and the CPLP grouping of Portuguese speaking countries for failing to adhere to a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for coup leaders.
An ECOWAS official was not immediately available to comment.
Western diplomatic sources said the ECOWAS deal had rewarded the coup leaders with the removal of election front-runner Carlos Gomes Junior, who the junta said had been plotting with Angola to “annihilate” the Guinea-Bissau military.
Gomes Junior, a former prime minister who supported efforts to reform the military and combat drugs cartels using the country as a transhipment point for Latin American cocaine bound for Europe, was briefly detained in the coup and has since fled to Portugal. He has said he hopes to return to rule.
“The EU has imposed sanctions on the members of the military junta as they threaten security and stability in Guinea-Bissau,” Ashton said in the statement. “We continue to demand that constitutional order be immediately restored.”
A 600-strong ECOWAS force, made up mainly of Nigerian troops, has been deployed to Guinea-Bissau to oversee the transition back to democratic rule, and replace a contingent of Angolan soldiers preparing to withdraw.
The 270-strong Angolan force will begin withdrawing next week, an Angolan official said on Thursday. The mission had been camped out in a Guinea-Bissau hotel since early 2011 when it was invited by the former government to help reform the military, notorious for coups and suspected by the United States and others of being involved in drugs trafficking.
Guinea-Bissau soldiers attacked the home of Gomes Junior and detained him on April 12, days before a presidential run-off election that he was poised to win. The junta said it removed Gomes Junior because he had a deal with Luanda to “annihilate Guinea-Bissau’s armed forces”.
Some of Gomes Junior’s allies - former army chief of staff Jose Zamora Induta, former interior minister Fernando Gomes, and former election commission chief Desejado Lima Dacosta - have fled to Gambia where they have been arrested.
The CPLP grouping and the United Nations have expressed frustration over ECOWAS’s failure to press the junta to reinstate the ousted government and complete the disrupted election process.
EU development aid to Guinea-Bissau has been suspended since the military mutiny, but humanitarian aid and direct support to the population have not been affected.
ECOWAS and the U.N., which have also imposed sanctions on the junta leaders, said armed forces chief Antonio Indjai was behind the putsch. The junta denied this, saying Indjai had been deposed in the coup.
Reporting by Alberto Dabo in Bissau and Richard Valdmanis in Dakar; Additional Reporting by Sebastian Moffett in Brussels; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Diana Abdallah