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U.N. urges international help for Guinea-Bissau polls

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Guinea-Bissau must stick to its reform pledges and hold elections on time, but it needs international aid to finance the polls, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday.

The tiny West African country, which is used by Latin American drug-smuggling gangs as a transit point to Europe, has said it will hold elections in June to replace the president who was assassinated last month.

Soldiers killed President Joao Bernardo “Nino” Vieira on March 2 in a revenge attack after an explosion killed his rival, General Batista Tagme Na Wai, the military chief.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council made public on Thursday, Ban called for a credible and transparent process of investigation of the two slayings and a fair trial for the defendants “in order to end impunity in Guinea-Bissau.”

The deaths of Vieira and Na Wai ended a long-running and violent feud between the two men.

But it left a power vacuum which analysts say could lead to greater instability and allow Latin American cocaine smuggling gangs, already active in Bissau, to extend their influence.

Bissau held what were generally regarded as fair parliamentary elections last year, but the drug-fuelled instability follows years of civil conflict and military coups.

The country has asked for money from the international community to meet the cost of the elections, estimated at 2.5 billion CFA francs (3.4 million pound).

Ban welcomed a pledge by interim president Raimundo Pereira to hold elections promptly and called for international help.

“I appeal to the friends of Guinea-Bissau and to the international community as a whole not to abandon the country at this critical moment and to provide technical and financial assistance,” Ban said in the report.

A series of coups, mutinies and, more recently, involvement in the drug trade, have tarnished the image of the military and destabilized the country despite European Union-led reform efforts.

Ban said the two assassinations underscored the urgent need to implement reforms of the justice, defence and security sectors in Guinea-Bissau.

Editing by Anthony Boadle