Guinea-Bissau president dies in Paris

Guinea Bissau's President Malam Bacai Sanha pictured in Lisbon on February 17, 2010.

Story highlights

  • President Malam Bacai Sanha died at Val-de-Grace Hospital in Paris on Monday
  • He became president in September 2009 in a runoff election
  • Guinea-Bissau has been plagued by political unrest, poverty and drug trafficking

President Malam Bacai Sanha of Guinea-Bissau died early Monday, according to an official at the West African nation's embassy in Paris. He was 64.

The official said Sanha was in Paris for treatment, and died at Val-de-Grace Hospital.

Sanha became president in September 2009, months after the assassination of President Joao Bernardo Vieira. Sanha had served as interim president and defeated another former president, Kumba Yala, in a runoff election.

Guinea-Bissau's history has been marked by military coups and attempted coups since the nation of 1.5 million gained independence from Portugal in 1974. Those conflicts ravaged the nation's infrastructure and economy and left it among the poorest in the world.

Despite Sanha's coming to power in what international observers deemed a fair and peaceful election, his tenure was marked by turmoil among the country's military and political leadership.

Last month, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the use of violence in what was suspected to be a military coup attempt, saying in a statement, "The primacy of the lawful civilian authorities according to the constitution must be respected."

And, despite the Parliament's call to fight drug trafficking, Guinea-Bissau is still considered an increasingly important transit point for cocaine en route from South America to Europe, according to the CIA Factbook.