Guinea-Bissau is notoriously unstable, with a history of coups and army mutinies and has become a centre for drug cartels, which use it as a hub to traffic drugs to Europe. In the early hours of December 26th a surprise attack was mounted against the army arsenal in the capital, Bissau, subsequently described as an attempted coup.

Twenty-five renegade soldiers involved in the apparent coup plot are being detained in the capital. Meanwhile, at an air base north of Bissau the army has discovered a large cache of weapons.

The arms were seized at the homes of two soldiers arrested for taking part in the December 26th attack on army headquarters, which the regime has described as a coup attempt. Deadly clashes erupted the following night as loyalist forces hunted suspected coup plotters. Security forces shot dead one coup plotter who was coming to hand himself in according to the Daily Nation. Prime Minister Carlos Gomez Junior took refuge in the Angolan embassy during the unrest.

Army chief General Antonio Indjai, himself allegedly involved in a coup attempt three years ago, said he was “staggered” by the quantity of arms found during search operations in the northern suburb of Plack 1, at the homes of the soldiers who admitted taking part in the attack.

The army seized 30 Kalachnikovs, three rocket-launchers, a machine-gun, six crates of shells, three crates of flamethrowers, eight bulletproof jackets and ammunition in searches witnessed by AFP.

The army said it had arrested controversial navy chief Rear Admiral Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto – whom the United States has branded a drug kingpin – as the “mastermind” of the plot.

Some observers put the mutiny down to a falling out between Indjai and Bubo Na Tchuto who was among 25 detainees paraded before journalists. Indjai allegedly accused Tchuto of intending to seize power in order to re-establish narcotics trafficking in the country. Both men have in the past been accused of serious involvement in narcotics trafficking even though they were later exonerated by investigators. (Read reports on Guinea Bissau and the drugs trade at AfricaFocus). Two people died on the 27th in clashes between security forces and alleged mutineers as joint teams of soldiers, police and paramilitary police hunted suspects.

Bubo Na Tchuto is being detained in Mansoa, 60km north of the capital, and the 24 others in four cells at a Bissau air base. Another officer, General Watna Na Lai, was wounded and remains in hospital.

In Bissau, journalists saw another 24 detainees held at the air base. Journalists were not allowed to speak to them but members of NGOs who organised the visits said that, like Tchuto, they had criticised the condition of their detention “in very small, badly lit cells with filthy toilets and without running water”.

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