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Guinea-Bissau suspended from African Union

From Umaro Djau, CNN
April 17, 2012 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
Residents walk past parliament in Bissau last month. Military forces are in the streets of the capital Friday.
Residents walk past parliament in Bissau last month. Military forces are in the streets of the capital Friday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The African Union suspends Guinea-Bissau
  • NEW: History will show we were right, the junta says
  • Junta: The acting president and former prime minister are "detained for security reasons"
  • Guinea-Bissau has had several coups since it gained independence in 1974

(CNN) -- Guinea-Bissau has been suspended from the African Union in the wake of last week's military coup.

The suspension remains "until the restoration of constitutional order," the union said Tuesday.

The union cited the "recurrence of illegal and unacceptable interference of the leadership of Guinea-Bissau's army on the politics of the country, creating instability and culture of impunity, which have hampered the development of the country."

The union said it will request the cooperation of international organizations including the United Nations, the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States to apply additional sanctions, including a travel ban on key members of the junta.

"The African Union is doing their job, and we are doing our job," said Daba Naualna, a spokesman for the junta that has taken over the country. He argued that history will show that the coup was the right thing to do.

Eventually, the African Union will be able to understand the situation, he said.

The military command has said the revolt was in response to a "secret deal" between the government and Angola to allow Angolan troops in the country to attack the military.

The junta insisted that the African Union, whose rotating presidency is currently held by Angola, supports intervention by Angolan forces.

Angola, also a former Portuguese colony, issued a statement last week saying it would unilaterally withdraw its troops. A number of its troops are in Guinea-Bissau to help reform the country's armed forces, Angola said.

Meanwhile, Naualna said an interim president and a former prime minister of Guinea-Bissau will be freed from detention as soon as conditions allow.

Interim President Raimundo Pereira and former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr. "are being detained for security reasons," Naualna said.

The junta "does not anticipate" the return of Pereira and Gomes to power, despite international condemnations of the coup.

The developments came after the military command met Monday with the Economic Community of West African States regional bloc, which has denounced the coup and called for the junta "to restore constitutional rule immediately."

Naualna said the West African group agreed to send a technical mission to Guinea-Bissau as soon as possible to help find solutions to the crisis, though specific details were not released.

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara will lead the talks within the bloc, Naualna said.

After Thursday's coup, military leaders and a group of mostly opposition political parties declared the formation of a transitional national council, spokesman Fernando Vaz said. The composition of the council had yet to be determined, he said, but the president of the council will be the interim president of the country until parliamentary and presidential elections are held.

The formation of the council effectively means the constitution will be suspended, a scenario similar to events in 2003, after a coup against President Kumba Iala.

Coups and coup attempts are common in Guinea-Bissau since it won independence from Portugal in 1974.

Soldiers took Pereira and Gomes into custody Thursday night, sparking international condemnation.

Leaders of the nation's armed forces have taken control of the nation to ensure stability, Naualna said.

"The (army chief of staff) thinks, for the sake of the country, that power cannot fall into the streets and decided to have (the military) play its part in seeking solutions with the political class to resolve this crisis," he said.

On Sunday, the "military command" announced the closure of Guinea-Bissau to all air traffic and maritime circulation from abroad as a matter "of national security and safeguard of the territory of Guinea-Bissau."

A chorus of world leaders has denounced last week's coup, which occurred just before the second round of a presidential election set for April 29.

The African Union, the United Nations and the United States called for a return to civilian rule and demanded the release of the leaders.

Foreign ministers from the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, of which Guinea-Bissau is a member, have also condemned the coup.

Guinea-Bissau's conflicts have ravaged its infrastructure and economy, leaving it among the poorest in the world.

The nation's first round of voting in a presidential election was held in March, and campaigning for the second round was about to begin. The election was prompted by the death of the incumbent Malam Bacai Sanha in January after a long illness.

Sanha had become president in September 2009 after the assassination of his predecessor.

Despite his 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.

To date, no democratically elected president of the country has served a full five-year term.

CNN's Kim Chakanetsa and David McKenzie contributed to this report.

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