ECOWAS Defence Chiefs agree to restructure Guinea Bissau military

Afrique en ligne ECOWAS Defence Chiefs rose from their two-day extra-ordinary meeting in Bissau with a resolution that the Armed Forces of the crisis-ridden nation must ‘immediately’ be restructured.

Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff and chairman of the Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff (CCDS), Air Chief Marshal Paul Dike, alongside the Chiefs of Defence Staff of Burkina Faso and Cape Verde, told journalists at the end of the meetingth at the restructuring would involve the immediate implementation of the Security Sector Reform, rehabilitation of six barracks and improvement in the welfare of military personnel.

Under the programme, over-aged former veterans of the liberation war of independ ence will be disengaged and a pension scheme for the military instituted.

But Dike insisted that the former veterans must be given ‘a dignified exit’.

Although he did not give details of the ‘dignified exit’, Air Chief Marshal Dike stated ‘They fought for this country. Some have served for 40 to 50 years. And in their exiting, they should not be humiliated.’

Guinea Bissau, led by former veterans still serving in the military, fought the war that culminated in the country’s independence in 1975 under the banner of the Peoples Liberation Army in 1974.

But the country has been under ‘military-induced political stability’ due to the inability of the military to accept civilian control as an element of democratic governance.

The latest violation by the country’s military came on April 1, 2010, when the United Nations compound was violated to release Rear Admiral Bubo Na Tchuto who was accused of a coup plot.

Tchuto fled to The Gambia after the coup and upon return sought asylum in the UN compound.

The Prime Minister was also briefly detained and the Chief of Defence Staff was removed and placed under house arrest.

Sources said that the current strength of the Guinea Bissau Military of 4,458 pe rsonnel has many over-aged officers, including some who are over 80 years.

Of the troops, only two are within the age range of 21.

These over-aged veterans have been hesitant to leave the service because of the ‘fear of the unknown’ as there are no Terms and Conditions of Service for them detailing the number of years they are to service, their gratuity or pensions.

According to Dike, ‘There are three key issues here that have to be addressed. One is the enforcement of democracy. Two is the enforcement of rule of law. Three is that there are lots of problems with the Armed Forces that require immediate a ttention.

‘Therefore, we have resolved within the Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff that there must be immediate implementation of the Security Sector Reform initiatives.

‘But for it to be successful, the Armed Forces must be restructured. At the moment, what is existent is an inverted pyramid with a lot of Generals and other senior officers being more than the other ranks.’

He added that ‘We will be making recommendations to the ECOWAS Commission to e nsure that the funds are available for restructuring and re-equipping of the Armed Forces. This is because if the Armed Forces are not equipped, they would not be able to fight the drug menace here.’

The meeting also recommended the immediate rehabilitation of six military barracks and the improvement of the working conditions of the military.

ECOWAS member nations must also ensure that necessary training is given the Guinea Bissau military, especially the provision of special training to units that will provide security to the President, Prime Minister and top government officials.

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