Guinea-Bissau's Transition Council Entrusted to a Bishop

Following a “Painless” Coup

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BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau, SEPT. 16, 2003 ( Bishop José Câmnate na Bissign was chosen to head the National Transition Council after the military seized control of this western African nation in a bloodless coup d’etat.

After deposing President Kumba Yala and Prime Minister Mario Pires on Sunday, the army chief of staff, General Verissimo Correira Seabra, assumed the leadership of the country.

Bishop Bissign described the coup as “painless” because “there was no shooting and no one was wounded.” The capital city of Bissau is calm, the Missionary Service News Agency reported.

The Military Committee for the Re-establishment of the Constitutional and Democratic Order, under the direction of Correira Seabra, invited representatives of all political parties, as well as civilian, judicial and religious leaders, to participate in the talks to create a National Transition Council.

Bishop Bissign, representing the Church, attended the talks. Today he was designated to head the council, made up of 16 representatives of various political entities. The council, which is a consultative body, represents the first step toward the formation of a provisional government, which would organize new national elections.

For his part, General Correira Seabra said he had no intention of staying in power. He said he would be the interim president until new elections are organized.

The military chief said that the coup was the “best solution” to the constitutional chaos, social unrest, electoral fraud and violations of human rights that have plagued this country.

On Monday a delegation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) arrived in Bissau. The delegation was headed by the organization’s secretary-general, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, who called for the “immediate restoration of the constitutional order.”

Guinea-Bissau, situated on the west African coast, was a Portuguese colony until 1974, when it won independence. The first democratic elections were held two decades later.

Of the country’s 1.3 million inhabitants, 150,000 are Catholic. The majority of the population is Muslim or animist.

An army uprising in 1998 sparked a civil war that caused hundreds of deaths and displaced masses of people. On May 7, 1999, a military junta overthrew President Joao Bernardino Vieira. He is now in exile in Portugal.

In February 2000, Kumba Yala was elected for five years. A difficult democratic transition got under way, burdened by an economy devastated by years of civil war.

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