GAMBIA-GUINEA: Government shocked by Guinea-Bissau coup claims

Banjul, 18 June 2002 (IRIN) - The Gambian government has described as “untrue and unfounded” reports by Guinea-Bissau’s president, Kumba Yala, that the Gambia was involved in two reported plots to overthrow the Bissau government.

Yala threatened to invade the Gambia during a meeting with foreign diplomats, civil society and NGO representatives on 11 June. Yala said that he could “crush” the Gambia unless its government stopped "supporting subversive acts against the Bissau government". The Gambia, he added, had been involved in coup attempts against his government in November 2001 and on 20 May, news agencies reported.

In a strongly-worded statement on Monday, the Gambian ministry for foreign affairs said President Yahya Jammeh and his government received the reports with “consternation”.

"The government of the Gambia categorically refutes the allegations as untrue, unfounded, misconceived, regrettable and totally contrary to the spirit of good neighbourliness that the Gambia has been promoting and nurturing," the statement said.

The Gambia, the statement added, had instead been involved in peaceful mediation during Guinea-Bissau's power struggle between former President Joao Bernardo “Nino” Vieira and the late army chief-of-staff General Ansoumane Mane from June 1998 to May 1999.

According to the Gambian foreign ministry statement, "the Gambia also serves as coordinator of the "Friends of Guinea- Bissau Group' at the United Nations in New York", which mobilizes international support for the reconstruction of Guinea- Bissau.

Apart from the Gambian government, opposition parties in Guinea- Bissau have also criticized Yala’s threat to invade the Gambia. The Guinea- Bissau Resistance party called the Guinean leader’s outburst an "obsession", whilst the former ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea- Bissau and Cape Verde, also criticized it.

Meanwhile, a journalist was arrested in Guinea-Bissau, over comments made to a private radio station about Yala's threats to the Gambia, the Portuguese news agency, Lusa, reported on Tuesday.

Joao de Barros, owner of the Diario de Bissau newspaper which was closed down by the government last year, was detained on Monday after taking part in a program on Radio Bombolom. The journalist had been invited to comment on the rejection in parliament that day of the state budget proposals, Lusa reported. Barros, Lusa added, told the radio that the threats to use military force against the Gambia were "pathetic".

Barros had been arrested before for being critical of the government.

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