Following Guinea-Bissau Coup d'Etat, Transitional Arrangements Created Aimed at Elected Government within 18 Months, Security Council Told
NEW YORK, 29 September (UN Headquarters) -- Having agreed on a truce and a Transitional Government after the 14 September coup d'état in Guinea-Bissau, the military, the political class and civil society seemed to have pulled the country back from the brink, Tuliameni Kalomoh, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the Security Council this morning in an open briefing on the latest developments in that country.
Describing transitional arrangements, finalized yesterday, that include a Transitional President and Prime Minister, an elected legislature within six months and presidential election within 18 months, Mr. Kalomoh said that there seemed to be a genuine atmosphere of give-and-take that augured well for the future. But, he said, serious social and economic tensions persisted and required careful management. The urgent task for the international community was to help ensure a successful transition to democratic rule.
José Ramos Horta, Minster for Foreign Affairs of Timor-Leste and Special Envoy of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Counties, said that the military intervention had been seemingly welcomed by the people of Guinea-Bissau. Not a single shot was fired and there were pledges of a return to normalcy. He was confident that the current Transitional Government had no wish to remain in power, and had been genuinely motivated by socio-economic conditions. They deserved a chance, he said, while calling for urgent economic assistance and the extension of the mandate of the United Nations Peace-building Support Office.
In the discussion that followed, Council members welcomed the transitional agreements and hoped that the optimistic assessment of the situation proved true. At the same time, most Council members also condemned the recent coup, though they expressed an understanding that it had occurred because of a deteriorating political and economic situation.
The representative of the Russian Federation said that when the Security Council had visited the country before the coup, it had encountered an alarming situation, with the President living in a Government vacuum and the rest of the Government held together by his intrigues and the tolerance of the military. He called for international action to make sure that democratic processes in Africa did not stall, and asked for assurances that this time elections would indeed take place in a timely manner in Guinea-Bissau.
Angola's representative paid tribute to the timely and effective action by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Community of Portuguese Speaking Counties that had averted a more serious crisis. But, he warned that, if urgent follow-up by the people of Guinea-Bissau and the international community was not taken, the current situation could spin out of control.
After the Security Council members spoke, Guinea-Bissau's representative said he realized that it was difficult for the Council to accept the kind of change that had occurred in his country, but he asked for it to also understand the reasons behind the coup. He deplored the recourse to violence -- the military had also regretted it, he said -- but the instability had to be redressed. The temptation, therefore, to compare the situation to others, such as the one in Central Africa, must be avoided.
The people of his country had lived through unspeakable difficulties, but they had their limits, he continued. All sectors had now agreed that the country should be led by civilians and include the participation of civil society. International assistance was crucial, however, including full funding of mechanisms established by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which he thanked for its work thus far.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Germany, United States, Pakistan, Cameroon, Chile, Spain, France, Guinea, Syria, China and Mexico.
The Security Council met this morning to consider the situation in Guinea-Bissau in the wake of a bloodless coup in which the country's military, on 14 September, took power from the country's President Kumba Yala. That coup was condemned in a statement made to the press by Council President Emyr Jones Parry (United Kingdom) on 15 September. According to that statement, Council members called for the speedy restoration of constitutional order and the holding of legislative elections as soon as possible.
On 19 June, the Council President read a statement (S/PRST/2003/8), in which the Council appealed to the President and Government of the country to ensure the transparency and credibility of forthcoming legislative elections. That statement followed briefings from David Stephen, the Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Peace-building Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS), and Dumisani S. Kumalo (South Africa), the Chairman of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Advisory Group on Guinea-Bissau. [For more information on that meeting, see Press Release SC/7797 of 19 June.]
The United Nations Peace-building Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS) was established by the Council in March 1999 to coordinate the efforts of the United Nations system after the civil strife of the late 1990s. The recent coup, according to news reports, took place after an announcement by President Yala that elections would be postponed once again, following several such postponements since the President dissolved the Government last November. The army chief of staff, General Verissimo Correia Seabre, said he would remain leader until a transitional government had been set up. On 17 September, President Yala resigned.
TULIAMENI KALOMOH, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that before the coup Guinea-Bissau had severe financial problems and weak State structures, which were incapable of providing services; increasing rule by decree; a dire economic situation; and a huge backlog of salary arrears. In sum, it had all the indicators of a country in a pre-conflict situation.
He reported that an agreement had been reached on 17 September, soon after the coup, through the facilitation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It provided for the return of the armed forces to their barracks, the resignation of President Kumba Yala, the establishment of a Transitional Government led by a civilian and the holding of general elections. President Yala resigned that day, and the next day government leaders of Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal arrived to facilitate consensus on transitional mechanisms.
The subsequent nomination of Henrique Rosa, a civilian, an economist and previous Chairman of the National Electoral Commission, a Transitional President was received favourably by all stakeholders, he said. On the other hand, the nomination of Arthur Sanha, the Secretary-General of the current ruling party, as Transitional Prime Minister has proved to be highly controversial.
After two weeks of continuous negotiation, he said that on 28 September a Political Transition Charter was formally agreed upon by the Military Committee for the Restoration of Constitutional and Democratic Order (MCRCDO) and most political parties and civil society organizations. It lists the instruments of transition as the Transitional President, the MCRCDO as the "consultative organ" for the President, along with the National Transition Council and the Transitional Government.
The Charter also, he said, states that the legislative elections will take place within six months of the signing of the Charter (28 March). At that time, the National Transition Council and the Transitional Government cease to exist and are superseded by the elected Peoples' National Assembly and a new Government. The presidential elections are to take place within one year of the swearing-in of the elected deputies. The transitional presidency would last, therefore, a maximum of 18 months.
Yesterday, Mr. Rosa and Mr. Sanha were sworn in and the members of the National Transition Council took their oaths of office. The political class, the military and civil society seemed to have pulled back from the brink, having agreed on a truce and a transition. There seemed to be a genuine atmosphere of give-and-take that augured well for the future. But, he said, serious social and economic tensions persisted and required careful management. The urgent task for the international community was to help ensure a successful transition.
JOSE RAMOS HORTA, Minster for Foreign Affairs of Timor-Leste and Special Envoy of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP), said he had spent one week in the country and had met former President Yala, and leaders of political parties, armed forces and civil society. He had left the country on 16 August without the certainty that there would be no military intervention. In his discussions with political parties, church members and the private sector, there was general disappointment with the governors and agreement that there should be changes.
The military intervention had seemingly been welcomed by society, he said. One could only be pleased that not a single shot was fired and that there were pledges of a return to normalcy. He had observed a heartbreaking sense of dignity and pride among the people of Guinea-Bissau. For over a year, thousands of civil servants had worked without salary. In a region shaken by violence, Guinea-Bissau was an oasis of tranquility, with an absence of hatred. He congratulated the United Nations for its role as a focal point for various segments of society, and he hoped that role, played by UNOGBIS, would be extended for some time.
He said the country was in dire need of economic assistance. The Bretton Woods institutions might observe a moratorium on payments to enable recovery of the economy. If properly managed, the country had been blessed by enormous rainfall and enough land to be a breadbasket for the region, if properly managed. He was confident that the current Transitional Government had no wish to remain in power, and had been genuinely motivated by the socio-economic conditions. They deserved a chance.
GUNTER PLEUGER (Germany) said he hoped that the assessment of a brighter future would prove correct. He expected a prompt return to the constitutional order and hoped that the electoral process would not be further damaged. Guinea-Bissau was at a watershed, and there was a real threat of failure. The economic situation was desperate. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had withdrawn and World Bank projects had been suspended. It was, therefore, essential to restore constitutional normality.
ISMAEL ABRAAO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola) said thanks to the effective action by ECOWAS, a crisis had been averted. Both regional organizations, ECOWAS and the CPLP, had quickly responded to the crisis, which illustrated the importance of regional organizations. If urgent action by the people of Guinea-Bissau and the international community was not taken, the current situation might spin out of control.
He stressed the responsibility of the international community. The donor community should avoid a situation where its response to the needs of the countries was attached to insurmountable conditionalities, thereby prolonging the crisis, he said. An open mind was necessary to deal with the situation. The role of UNOGBIS and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) should be enhanced. The Council's support of efforts by regional actors was key. Referring to the diaspora, he said Guinea-Bissau had valuable human resources which should be brought into play. The situation in Guinea-Bissau was an emergency and the Council needed to address it, before it deteriorated into a wider conflict.
ALEXANDER KONUZIN (Russian Federation) said that the recent events in Guinea-Bissau were part of an alarming chain of coup d'états in Africa. When the Security Council visited the country most recently, it had encountered a worrisome situation, with the President living in a government vacuum and the rest of the Government held together by his intrigues and tolerated by the military. While the coup may be condemned, the reasons for it must be understood. Like many African governments, the one in Guinea-Bissau had gone through institutional degradation. Political will was needed to press for strict compliance with the strictures of democratic government in Africa. The African Union should have a role in pressing for such democracy. He asked what mechanisms were in place in Guinea-Bissau to make sure elections took place properly and on time.
JAMES CUNNINGHAM (United States) said that he agreed with the statement of Germany and much that had already been said, and hoped that the transition to civilian government in Guinea-Bissau would continue, including through rapid steps toward a broad-based election. He also supported the role that ECOWAS had played in the country, as well as other international actors. He said that his country would continue to closely monitor developments in the country.
MASOOD KHALID (Pakistan) said the need for generous assistance could not be overstated. Guinea-Bissau could be a test case for the United Nations and the international community. Success or failure in the country would be crucial for the credibility and effectiveness of the United Nations. It was the focus of attention of two major organs, the ECOSOC and the Security Council. It was important, therefore, not to fail. Extreme poverty and underdevelopment were the main problems. The joint ECOSOC/Security Council mission to the region had reported that widespread unemployment, particularly among the young population, posed a threat to peace and stability.
He stressed that the response to the peace-building and development needs of the country should show flexibility. He noted with surprise that the country had been making regular payments, including interest, to the IMF. The Bretton Woods institutions must show flexibility regarding those payments. Commitments by the international community to Guinea-Bissau had materialized too slowly.
MARTIN CHUNGONG AYAFOR (Cameroon) said he was gratified to see that the military junta had refrained from staying in power. The army must keep its promises in the future not to intervene in the political process. The unconstitutional change of power had, unfortunately, not eliminated the problems of the country. The socio-economic crisis remained unchanged. Guinea-Bissau required the assistance of the international community, not only to put the electoral process back on track, but also to keep the same causes from producing the same effects.
HERALDO MUNOZ (Chile) condemned the forceful resolution of the situation in Guinea-Bissau, but recognized that the key role played by ECOWAS was a positive factor that showed that Africa desired to resolve its own problems. He also welcomed the transitional agreements and the scheduling of elections.
However, he said, the Security Council, along with ECOWAS, must continue to closely monitor the situation to make sure the Transitional Government does not make the same mistakes as its predecessor, especially in the matter of orderly progress toward timely elections.
INOCENCIO ARIAS (Spain) condemned the coup d'état and appealed to the military authorities to reinstate constitutional authority without delay. For that reason, he welcomed the agreements that had been reached in the past few days, including the installation of civilian leaders and a schedule toward democratic elections. He appealed for international assistance to be provided to Guinea-Bissau, in light of the deteriorated situation there.
JEAN-MARC DE LA SABLIERE (France) said his country had condemned the coup d'état, but supported the steps taken by ECOWAS. He noted that in such situations, regional and subregional organizations could be of great assistance. The situation on the ground, in spite of events, was still a matter of great concern and the Council must follow it closely. The resignation of President Yala and establishment of a Transitional Government had opened the way to a constitutional order, provided that transitional authorities would hold transparent and fair legislative elections as soon as possible.
ALPHA IBRAHIMA SOW (Guinea) said given the precarious nature of the situation and the uncertainty in the country, it was crucial that the Council monitor the situation on an ongoing basis. The overthrow of President Yala by a Military Committee once again demonstrated that in Africa only a collective and firm reply on the part of the countries of the subregion was appropriate. He, therefore, welcomed the rapid action of ECOWAS and the African Union, in order to protect legality and ensure restoration of constitutional order. Economic, social and political measures were necessary today, more than ever; Guinea-Bissau needed the support of the international community.
The failure of President Yala had stemmed from disappointing socio-economic results and lack of international support, he said. Many promises had been made, but they had not been translated to facts on the ground. The example of Guinea-Bissau was an acid test for the Council regarding mechanisms that should be put in place in a political transitional period in a poor country. The Council should fully support ECOWAS and the African Union in helping Guinea-Bissau establish the machinery for transition. Ongoing efforts must be made to coordinate economic reconstruction programmes determined by ECOSOC and decisions to be taken by the Council. He agreed to mobilizing international support in favour of the transitional authorities and extending the mandate of the United Nations Office.
MILAD ATIEH (Syria) said that the situation in Guinea-Bissau was very difficult in many ways and must be dealt with, before it turned into a catastrophe the consequences of which could not be contained. He welcomed, therefore, agreements toward establishing democracy in that country and supported the role of ECOWAS and UNOGBIS in those efforts. He further welcomed efforts to remedy the situation and re-establish democracy in the country.
ZHANG YISHAN (China) was concerned by recent developments in the country, but at the same time noticed certain changes in the situation and hoped that normalcy would be restored, along with rehabilitation and development of the economy. He welcomed the role of ECOWAS and the Portuguese-speaking countries in the situation. The international community had an obligation to increase its assistance to Guinea-Bissau, so that it could develop on a path of normalcy.
ADOLFO AGUILAR ZINSER (Mexico) said the joint ECOSOC/Council mission had noted the fragile situation during its visit to the country. His Government had condemned and deplored the coup d'état as a breach of constitutional order that could not serve as a starting point for establishment of a democratic government. However, given the situation in the country, he expressed appreciation for the efforts of ECOWAS and the African Union to ensure that, even under those circumstances, democracy would be restored.
He said the elections required the support of all political parties and the full trust of the country's citizens. He hoped the United Nations would organize the efforts of the international community in support of the legislative and presidential elections. The attention and vigilance of the international community would also be indispensable in ensuring that the socio-economic conditions would not deepen the crisis and that earlier pledges of economic assistance would be carried out. The United Nations must also play an important part in ensuring that provided resources would indeed serve the ends for which they were earmarked. Handling the problems in Guinea-Bissau with an international perspective of conflict prevention called for coordinated efforts on the part of the agencies involved and the regional organs of the United Nations.
ALFREDO CABRAL (Guinea-Bissau) thanked the Council for the interest it had shown in his country and said that such attention would help it continue on the road to regaining constitutional democracy. The people of the country had hoped that President Yala would take them down that path, and that an equitable distribution of resources would be achieved under his leadership. Unfortunately, that did not happen and there had been, in addition, chronic instability in a country with grave economic difficulty.
Regarding the coup d'état, he deplored the recourse to violence -- the military had also regretted it, he said -- but the instability had to be redressed. The temptation, therefore, must be avoided, to compare the situation to others, such as the one in Central Africa. The people of his country had lived through unspeakable difficulties, but they had their limits. Of course, it would have been better if the changes had taken place in a different way, but that is not what occurred.
He realized that it was difficult to accept the kind of change that had occurred in Guinea-Bissau, but he asked the international community to understand the full situation and to provide assistance, so that it could get back on track to democracy and development. Through consultation with all sectors of the country's society, an agreement for a Transitional Government had been reached that was aimed towards those goals. All had agreed that the country should be ruled by civilians, and include the participation of civil society. International assistance was crucial, however, including full funding of mechanisms established by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which he thanked for its work in the country.
In response to comments made and questions asked, Mr. KALOMOH, Assistant Secretary-General, said that although ensuring that elections would take place as planned was the primary responsibility of the country's leaders, it was incumbent upon the Organization to remain vigilant, monitor the situation and ensure that commitments and deadlines would be kept. The subregional leaders must also continue to support those efforts and hold the country's leaders to their commitments. Through the UNDP, the United Nations had made arrangements for coordination of donor community support to the electoral process.
As to the arrears in salaries for civil servants, he said various groups, such as the Group of Friends of Guinea-Bissau, were trying to mobilize resources in support of the Government regarding salary arrears. He hoped donors would be flexible and pragmatic.
Taking note of the emphasis placed by speakers on the need for stability, he said the international community had invested a lot of resources in electoral processes, but had come to realize that elections alone did not provide stability. Sustained efforts to support development programmes of countries emerging from conflict would better guarantee stability. The international community must remain engaged and support the people of Guinea-Bissau in developing state structures. Without such support, instability would continue.
Mr. KONUZIN (Russian Federation), noting that donors had allocated money for the scheduled October elections, asked if that money had reached its destination and if it was being spent. He also wanted to know if preparatory work for the elections had been done and if further funds were required for the preparations of elections. He asked that the next briefing provide a detailed account of how the United Nations was participating in the democratic processes of Guinea-Bissau and on the amount needed in that regard.
In response, Mr. KALOMOH said he had received general pledges for the October elections, some of which had materialized. He had made arrangements to ensure that resources made available were managed by the UNDP, and details in that regard would be provided. He expressed satisfaction with donor response and resource management by the UNDP office in Guinea-Bissau.
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