Former navy Commander Mohamed Laminé Sanha was killed in January by unknown assailants. He had been arrested and held without charge or trial several times since 2000. He was last arrested in August 2006 and accused of plotting to kill the Chief-of-Staff of the Armed Forces. He was released without charge three days later. An inquiry into Commander Sanha’s death was reportedly instituted but the outcome was not made public by the year’s end. A former Prime Minister who accused President Vieira and senior military officers of involvement in the killing took refuge for three weeks in the office of the United Nations Peace Building Office in Bissau (UNOGBIS) when a warrant was issued for his arrest. He left when the warrant was rescinded.
In March the government resigned after losing a vote of confidence. Over 1,000 people demonstrated against the government in the capital, Bissau, supervised by heavily armed police and military. A new Prime Minister and government were appointed in April.
In March it was estimated that the country needed US$700 million to satisfy basic needs, but donors were reluctant to grant aid because of political instability, which was aggravated by the economic situation.
The country has become a key transit point for drug trafficking from Latin America to Europe, further threatening the country’s stability and security. Allegations that members of the armed forces were involved in drug trafficking circulated, particularly after the police arrested four soldiers and two civilians in April with 600kg of cocaine in their car. In October a former Minister of National Security was ordered not to leave the country during an investigation into his involvement in the drug trade.
Freedom of expression
Journalists and human rights defenders faced arrest and threats of violence for alleging that the military authorities were involved in drug trafficking. Some went into hiding or took refuge in the UNOGBIS office, others fled the country.
- In July, four journalists received threats. Alberto Dabo, a correspondent for Rádio Bombolom and Reuters, went into hiding for a week after receiving anonymous telephone threats. He had published information implicating civil servants and soldiers in the drug trade. In September he was charged with defamation of the Navy Chief-of-Staff, violating state secrets and abusing press freedom. His trial had not started by the end of 2007.
- Human rights defender Mário Sá Gomes went into hiding in July and subsequently took refuge in the UNOGBIS office after a warrant was issued for his arrest. He had publicly called for the dismissal of the Chief-of-Staff of the Armed Forces in order to solve the drug problem. He left UNOGBIS after three weeks when the Minister of Interior gave assurances for his safety and provided bodyguards. He was questioned by the Procurator General in October but was not charged.
Children continued to be trafficked out of the country to work in cotton fields in southern Senegal or as beggars in the Senegalese capital. In October and November the police intercepted several vehicles transporting some 200 children aged between five and 12, and arrested at least seven people. The children had been promised an education in Senegal.