May 7, 1999 - THE WAR IS OVER!!!
After intense fighting which began yesterday evening, troops loyal to Nino surrendered to the Military Junta late this morning. President Nino has sought refuge in the Portuguese Embassy. The people of Bissau are celebrating, even as they mourn the latest casualties. Has peace with justice arrived?
UPDATE February 20, 1999
UPDATE February 6, 1999
Guinean Perspectives on the Resumption of Fighting
PICTURES AND TEXT FROM A TRIP TO GUINEA-BISSAU
Guinea-Bissau, a country of one million people in West Africa, is suffering its first sustained violent conflict since the war for independence from Portugal ended in 1974. The war errupted suddenly on June 7, 1998, when ousted
General Ansumane Mane led a military revolt against President João Bernardo "Nino" Vieira. Ninety percent of the military joined the rebellion. President Nino called in thousands of troops from neighboring Senegal and Guinea-Conakry in an attempt to quell the revolt. The fighting centered
in the capital, Bissau, sending nearly all of its 300,000 inhabitants upcountry to escape. Those displaced have relied on the generosity of family and friends in the interior, but they face severe shortages of food, clean water, and medical supplies.
JULY 25th TO AUGUST 8th 1998
On July 26, 1998, a ceasefire was declared, followed by peace negotiations which progressed at a painfully slow pace. Slowly an estimated 200,000 displaced persons returned to Bissau. There they faced a city occupied by foreign troops, many buildings reduced to rubble by the weeks of heavy shelling, homes looted of what took years of hard work to accumulate, places of employment closed indefinitely, and the ever present threat that shelling could resume.
Fighting resumed Sunday, October 18th. The citizens of Bissau once again fled the capital. Mortar and gun fire rocked the city as forces of the Military Junta advanced on the center of Bissau. Outside the capital, Junta forces swept the interior. Only part of the capital of Bissau and the Bijagos Islands remain in the hands of the government and foreign troops. A cease-fire went into effect Friday, October 23rd, followed by frantic negotiations to avoid the destruction and loss of life that a final military advance on Bissau would cause.
October 29th, in the Gambia, Junta leader Ansumane Mane and President Nino met face to face for the first time since the conflict began. Their talks continued in Abuja, Nigeria, culminating in the signing of a peace accord late Sunday, November 1rst, 1998. Does this mean the war is over? It all depends on how the peace accord is implemented. The people of Guinea-Bissau are not celebrating peace, yet.
UPDATE January 16, 1999 - Slowly the peace accord is being implemented. Just this past week, the government and the Military Junta agreed on the composition of a transitional government of national unity. This follows last month's nomination of Fransisco Fadul, a political advisor of the Military Junta, as transitional Prime Minister. The transitional government will take power when troops from Senegal and Guinea-Conakry have withdrawn. Their withdrawal is dependant on the deployment of ECOMOG peacekeepers from Togo, the Gambia, Niger, and Benin. The first 120 of the planned 1,450 ECOMOG forces finally arrived from Togo just after Christmas. Last week the first 200 Senegalese and Guinean troops (of around 3,000) left. The slowness of their withdrawal has led to tension in Bissau, tension heightened by rumors that the first group of Senegalese to leave Bissau stopped in the Bijagos Islands (within Guinea-Bissau) rather than returning home.
Most of Bissau's population has returned, but like the transitional government, some are delaying their return to the capital until Senegalese troops have left. Once the transitional government takes power, one of its major tasks will be to oversee parliamentary and presidential elections. According to the peace accord, these were to be held no later than the end of March 1999. Despite the likely delay in elections, hopes for peace remain.
UPDATE February 6, 1999 – FRAGILE CEASE-FIRE FOLLOWS SUDDEN RESUMPTION OF FIGHTING. Early Sunday January 31rst, fighting resumed in Bissau. Four days of intense shelling and small arms battles followed. On Wednesday a cease-fire was hastily brokered by Togolese diplomats sent by President Eyadema of Togo, current chairman of ECOWAS. Fighting slowly died down, and 300 ECOMOG troops from Niger and Benin, whose deployment had been delayed by the fighting, landed in Bissau. Friday and Saturday were calm. Bissau remains tense as it's citizens fear the bloodshed could resume at any time.
This third, and shortest, round of fighting has apparently been the most intense. The International Red Cross has confirmed 100 civilian dead and say that number could rise. A Guinean friend in Bissau told me by phone today that, in his estimation, the number of civilian dead is at least 400. The main hospital, short on medicines and basic surgical supplies, is struggling to cope with 300 civilian wounded. The sudden eruption of hostilities trapped the people of Bissau, many of whom had just recently returned after fleeing last year’s two episodes of fighting. There were reports of government troops blocking the exit of those who tried to flee. Missionaries and other sources in Bissau suggest civilians were used as human shields to protect Nino and Senegalese troops from the onslaught of the Military Junta.
Numerous sources – civilians, Catholic missionaries, diplomats wishing to remain anonymous, Fransisco Fadul, the Prime Minister designate of Guinea-Bissau – report that French troops were involved in the latest fighting. There are eye-witness accounts of French soldiers on the ground in Bissau and suggestions that a French ship shelled Junta positions, adding French fire power to the causes of death and destruction in Bissau.
The French vehemently deny these accusations.
February 5th, President Nino expelled Marco Faccioli, a 77 year old Italian priest who has lived in
Guinea-Bissau for the past 43 years, for denouncing the presence of French troops in Bissau in radio interviews earlier in the week.[The order was rescinded 48 hours later after intervention from the Diocese of Bissau.]
This latest explosion of fighting came just as it appeared that slowly, but surely, November’s peace accord was being implemented. The deployment of the ECOMOG interposition force and the gradual withdrawal of Senegalese and Guinean troops had begun. Just hours before the fighting flared, government and Junta officials finished outlining the details of the ECOMOG deployment and troop withdrawals.
Most people in Guinea-Bissau were thinking peace as they mourned the death of Dom Septímio Arturo Ferrezetta, Bishop of Bissau. Peace marches were held in his honor. His funeral, planned for February third, was to have celebrated the Bishop’s tireless efforts to bring this war to a peaceful, negotiated end. Now the Bishop’s body lies unburied, waiting for the elusive peace to which he had dedicated the last months of his life.
What went wrong? Who is to blame for the resumption of war? What is the current situation in Bissau? Here are some answers from Guineans and people in Guinea-Bissau.
Sentimentos de Bissau - Mensagem de Paz - You can almost hear the deafening thunder of artillery fire as you read these journal entries written during shelling in Bissau, February, 1999. (In Portuguese with some Kriolu.)
Phone Call With Bissau, February 6, 1999 - This e-mail, written after speaking with a friend in Bissau, details our conversation and describes the catastrophic situation in Bissau.
Letters From Padre Zé - Father Guiseppi Fumagalli,
an Italian missionary in Suzana, analyzes the situation and places much of the blame on France. (In original Portuguese or English translation courtesy of Arthur Bell.)
Report From the Organizations of Civil Society of Guinea-Bissau Currently in Portugal and Guinean Immigrants of Portugal - This report from their February 2, 1999 meeting, blames Nino and his foreign supporters for the resumption of hostilities. The report also offers some constructive suggestions to help resolve the conflict. (In Portuguese.)
UPDATE February 20, 1999 – PEACE?
This afternoon the Transitional Government of National Unity, led by Prime Minister Fransisco Fadul, was sworn in at the Presidential Palace in downtown Bissau. A BBC radio correspondent described the event as "warm, but tense." The few hundred civilians, including people playing traditional music and women dancing, were joined by legions of security forces from both sides. The speeches, including fourteen pages from President Nino, focused on peace and national reconciliation. Foreign dignitaries present lauded the proceedings, seeing the installment of the government as the strongest sign yet that peace has arrived in Guinea-Bissau.
Fransisco Fadul and the Military Junta backed down from earlier insistence that the transition government would not take power until all troops from Senegal and Guinea-Conakry had left the country. Their decision was motivated by the increased level of trust between the rival factions and the economic stagnation due in part to lack of a functioning government.
Today's events have capped off over a week of good news from Guinea-Bissau. Nino and Ansumane's meeting on February 14th, 1999, was their first meeting on Guinean soil since the war began. They called each other "brother" and embraced openly. Only Nino made a public statement after the meeting, allegedly on behalf of both parties. He said peace was here to stay. February 17th, there was another longer meeting between the two rivals in Lome, hosted by Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema. There they promised never again to resort to arms to solve their differences.
Why are so few Guineans celebrating peace? Why did the Portuguese newspaper Publico describe the mood in Guinea-Bissau this week as "calmly in panic?" Even if the talk of peace and reconciliation is sincere and translated into action, a major threat to lasting peace remains. Troops from Guinea-Conakry and Senegal remain in Bissau. Their presence could trigger fighting once again. By February 14th, 1,200 troops should have left. Instead, the first departure of "Djambaars" since the last round of fighting did not occur until February 18th. The departure of 700 Senegalese soldiers was announced, but only between 300 and 400 actually left. After this month's fighting, the joint military commission decided that all foreign troops, except for ECOMOG forces, should have left the country by February 28th. Now there are rumors that Senegal will only leave if the number of ECOMOG troops is increased from 600 to 1,450. I asked a Junta member this week if this peace was real. Yes, he said, Guineans had chosen peace. Their war was over. If the Senegalese refused to depart, that was their problem. Guineans could not allow a foreign army to remain in their country and would use force to make the Senegalese leave if necessary. He told me not to worry because God is on their side.
Guineans continue to worry. Many linger in precarious exile in the interior, afraid to return to Bissau as long as foreign troops remain. This week the World Food Program is launching a large distribution of food - interestingly, they are focusing their efforts within Bissau. Will rice lure people back to Bissau, only to be forced to flee once again? Perhaps they will follow Fransisco Fadul's lead. Guinea-Bissau's new Prime Minister is among the many Guineans who still refuse to sleep in the Capitol City.
CONTENT - I fell in love with Guinea-Bissau while living and working there as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1991 - 1994. I returned there the Summer of 1996 to study malaria. The Summer of 1998 I had planned a relaxing vacation in Guinea-Bissau. I bought my plane ticket two days before the war broke out. After much thought, I decided to try going to Guinea-Bissau despite the war. I could not imagine spending the next year without knowing how my friends in Guinea-Bissau were doing. All the troubles of getting there were worth it when I saw my friends coping with the war, experienced the generous welcome of both friends and strangers already hosting dozens of refugees from Bissau, and heard the optimism as people spoke of the future of post-war Guinea-Bissau.
Photo Gallery Photographs from my trip to Guinea-Bissau and Senegal during July and August of 1998. Text describing my journey, to accompany the photos, is coming soon. (NEW - especially for GB RPCV's who lived in Canchungo or Bairro Ajuda, photos of Sorti and Dada from this Summer.)
Photo Index Click on the thumbnail picture to see a larger version. (This page takes some time to load.)
Letters from the Road Some of the letters I sent from my trip. This feature is courtesy of Z of No Djunta Mon.
Human Rights in Guinea-Bissau What I heard about human rights violations while I was in Guinea-Bissau.
More content is coming soon, including what I heard while I was there about the origins of the conflict, the political situation in Guinea-Bissau, and local ideas about how to resolve the conflict. Also in my plans - Guinea-Bissau maps, photos and reports from happier times in Guinea-Bissau, and pages related to some of my non-Guinea-Bissau interests.
Links to Sites With More Information on the Crisis in Guinea-Bissau
No Djunta Mon is a site dedicated to assisting efforts to end the crisis in Guinea-Bissau. This site has great news links about Guinea-Bissau, background information, a bulletin board, and information on how you can help.
Infoseek Guinea-Bissau has the latest updates from Reuters on the Guinea-Bissau conflict.
LUSA News in English includes selections from the Portuguese news wire service abridged and translated into English.
LUSA News in Portuguese provides daily updates on the Guinea-Bissau situation with more frequent updates and more details than LUSA News in English. (Access to this site requires a user name and password, available free through LUSA.)
PortugalNet's Guinea-Bissau page "Convivio" section has lively discussions of the crisis, mainly by Guineans and mainly in Portuguese with some Kriolu. (This site is much faster with Microsoft Internet Explorer.)
Programa da Junta Militar explains some of the reasons for the conflict from the viewpoint of the Military Junta led by Ansumane Mane (in Portuguese, courtesy of Filomeno Monteiro).
Guiné - No Tchon is Romão Varela's Guinea-Bissau page. He also has a Guinea-Bissau bulletin board, Djumbai di Guiné.
Guiné-Bissau - O Conflito is a site in Portuguese dedicated to the present conflict.
Amnesty International has a report and several press releases on the human rights situation in Guinea-Bissau since the war began.
These pictures of destruction in Bissau are from the September 26th issue of Expresso. I include them here as I myself did not make it into the capital of Bissau to photograph the results of the fighting. This issue also includes a thirteen page interview with President Nino.
Please let me know what you think of the site and how it can be improved.
The backgrounds and sidebars on this site are
indigo hand-dyed fabrics from Guinea-Bissau.
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