Clashes between the two army factions erupted on Thursday night after two government officials were released from custody.
The gunfire and clashes that erupted in the capital of Guinea-Bissau this week were an “attempted coup”, President Umaro Sissoco Embalo said.
Clashes between the National Guard and presidential guard special forces erupted in Bissau on Thursday night and continued on Friday after National Guard soldiers freed two senior government officials detained in a corruption investigation.
The unrest in the small West African country has left at least two people dead.
Embalo, who was in Dubai attending the COP28 climate conference, arrived in Bissau on Saturday and said an “attempted coup” prevented him from returning.
“I must tell you that this act has serious consequences,” he added.
Calm returned at noon on Friday in the country with a history of instability, after the announcement that the army had captured Colonel Victor Tchongo, the commander of the National Guard.
On Saturday, the security presence in Bissau was reduced but soldiers could still be seen around some strategic buildings such as the presidential palace, police headquarters and some ministries.
Some National Guard officers and soldiers have fled into the country’s interior, the army said in a statement on Saturday, without specifying the numbers.
ECOWAS condemned the violence
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said it “strongly condemns the violence and all attempts to disrupt the constitutional order and rule of law in Guinea-Bissau”.
“ECOWAS further calls for the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators of the incident in accordance with the law,” the Abuja-based organization added in its statement on Saturday.
The regional bloc also expressed “full solidarity with the people and the constitutional authorities of Guinea-Bissau”.
A spokesman for the head of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, Stephane Dujarric, on Friday called for calm and urged the security forces and the army “to continue to avoid interference in national politics”.
Allegations of corruption
AFP news agency, citing military and intelligence sources, said members of the National Guard on Thursday stormed a police station to free Finance Minister Souleiman Seidi and Secretary of the Treasury. Antonio Monteiro.
The duo was brought in for questioning on Thursday morning over the reported withdrawal of $10m from the state coffers. They were detained under the orders of state prosecutors named by the president.
They were later re-arrested after the army took them from the control of the National Guard.
The National Guard is under the control of the interior ministry, which, like most of the country’s ministries, is dominated by the PAIGC party whose coalition won the June 2023 elections.
There have been at least 10 coups or attempted coups in Guinea-Bissau since independence from Portugal in 1974, with only one democratically elected president completing a full term in office.
Embalo, who was elected to a five-year term in December 2019, survived a failed ouster in February 2022.
West Africa has been hit by several military takeovers in the past three years, including two in Mali, one in Guinea, two in Burkina Faso and one in Gabon.