6 Guinea-Bissau troops arrested in attempted coup
BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau — Authorities on Monday interrogated six soldiers suspected of taking part in an attempted coup, a day after armed men busted into the president's home and sprayed it with bullets.
President Joao Bernardo Vieira narrowly escaped by hiding in a room in his heavily fortified residence while security forces fought back, only managing to turn back the soldiers after a three-hour gunbattle.
On Monday, the president of the tiny West African country returned to work, meeting with diplomats and overseeing the creation of a commission that will investigate the attempted coup, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.
Col. Armando Nhaga confirmed that the arrested six soldiers were being questioned. Three others fled after the battle.
He said that among those still at large is Ntcham Yala, a navy sergeant who is believed to be close to the ousted head of the navy, Rear Adm. Bubo Na Tchuto.
Na Tchuto was placed under house arrest in August after being accused of attempting to orchestrate a coup. But he escaped six days later, fleeing by sea to neighboring Gambia, where he was briefly arrested and then released, Nhaga said.
Na Tchuto could not be located for comment Monday but he has previously denied involvement in the prior foiled coup.
The U. N. says Guinea-Bissau is a key transit point for cocaine smuggled from Latin America to Europe. The government estimates that as much as 1,750 pounds of cocaine transits the country's borders each week, most of it flown in small planes from South America.
U. N. drug officials believe the traffickers drop off the drugs on the uninhabited islands that dot the country's coastline. It's a territory that until August was under the control of Na Tchuto's navy.
Sunday's attack came days after the government announced the provisional results of last week's parliamentary elections, which saw the party of former President Kumba Yala lose a fifth of its delegates. Yala rejected the results even though international observers deemed them legitimate.
Since winning independence from Portugal in 1973, Guinea-Bissau has suffered multiple coups and a civil war. Vieira himself came to power in a 1980 coup, while Kumba Yala was deposed in one in 2003.
The nation remains one of the poorest and least developed in the world with most of its 1.5 million residents living without electricity. Even the nation's newly built parliament is powered by a generator.
Associated Press Writer Assimo Balde contributed to this report from Bissau, Guinea-Bissau. Rukmini Callimachi reported from Dakar, Senegal.