UN envoy says Guinea-Bissau in fragile state after elections

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. envoy for Guinea-Bissau said Monday the “political crisis and the parliamentary paralysis” following elections this year have left the impoverished West African nation in a fragile state as the United Nations prepares to end its peace-building mission at the end of the year.

Rosine Sori-Coulibaly told a virtual Security Council meeting that recent political developments have led to “a politically charged atmosphere with mounting mistrust” among political players.

Guinea-Bissau, a nation of of just over 1.6 million inhabitants located between Senegal to the north and Guinea to the east and south, has long been beset by instability, corruption and drug trafficking. Since it gained independence from Portugal in 1974 it has experienced four coup d’etats and more than a dozen attempted coups.

In the 2000s, Guinea-Bissau became known as a transit point for cocaine between Latin America and Europe as traffickers profited from corruption and weak law enforcement. But the drug trade has become less prominent with increasing enforcement.

In a run-off presidential election in December, former army general and prime minister Umaro Cissoko Embalo topped the poll. But the result was immediately contested by losing candidate Domingos Simoes Pereira, another former prime minister from the long-ruling PAIGC party who challenged the result in the Supreme Court.

Embalo had himself sworn in as president in late February after dismissing the former government, and despite a pending Supreme Court decision to annul the election results. He started forming a new government with support from the military, which according to published reports took control of all state institutions and the national broadcast media.

According to those reports, former PaIGC prime minister Aristides Gomes went into hiding, and several ministers, as well as PAIGC presidential candidate Simoes Pereira, left the country because of concerns for their personal safety.

Sori-Coulibaly said “mutual accusations and reported acts of intimidation against those opposing the new political” order “have created a hostile environment, making it difficult to reach a compromise for the sake of political stability and consensus building around national peace-building priorities.”

She said that while president Embalo and his supporters are focused on consolidating power, the PAIGC party is contesting the June 29 parliamentary vote that approved the program of the new prime minister, Nuno Gomes Nabiam.

Embalo has expressed a desire to form a broad-based government but prospects are low because of strong opposition from PAIGC, Sori-Coulibaly

“Concerns about insecurity and human rights abuses, such as the July 26 raid on Radio Capital FM, which is considered allied to the opposition, as well as the arbitrary arrests, intimidation and detention of persons and political figures perceived as opposing the current administration have been reported,” she said. “These occurrences have heightened political tensions.”

Sori-Coulibaly said the political and parliamentary paralysis have prevented the U.N. mission from supporting urgent reforms including the review of the Constitution, the electoral law and the law on political parties.

The U.N. special representative said Embalo’s desire to change the system of government — from semi-presidential to presidential — under the new constitution, “if not carefully managed and widely discussed” may further compound “an already fragile situation.”

The United Nations has had a peace-building operation in Guinea-Bissau since 1999. The Security Council in late February confirmed an earlier plan to end the U.N. mission by Dec. 31, 2020.

Sori-Coulibaly told the council the mission is starting to wind down, but stressed that U.N. support for Guinea-Bissau “will remain crucial.” She called for a strengthened U.N. country team to continue peace-building efforts and protect and promote human rights.

“Funding will be essential for averting a financial cliff,” she said.

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