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EU restores ties with Guinea-Bissau

The EU has restored political ties to Guinea-Bissau nearly five years after a military coup threw the country into chaos and soured relations with the international community.

On Tuesday, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, applauded the west African country for “embarking on a new path of peace, reconciliation and development” after it held elections and restored its constitution last year, adding that a new aid package would be announced in the coming months.

Guinea-Bissau has struggled with frequent military coups, and its role in the international drugs trade has cemented its troubled reputation as the world’s first narco-state.

“Today’s decision allows us to support the efforts of the authorities to rebuild the country, entrench democratic institutions and lay the foundations for long-term stability,” said Mogherini.

The EU will host a meeting on Wednesday to “mobilise support for the implementation of reforms in Guinea-Bissau and its development programme,” Mogherini said. Delegates from the EU, the Guinea-Bissau government and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) will attend.

At the meeting, Guinea-Bissau will ask international donors for $1.8bn in aid to fund its 10-year development plan, which aims to boost tourism and investment, according to the country’s finance minister, Geraldo Martins.

Martins said his country’s political climate has finally calmed down after decades of instability. “[Our] government includes members of the opposition. This is a strong signal to the country and the international community. This is a sign of unity never before seen,” he said.

The EU’s commissioner for development, Neven Mimica, said: “Guinea-Bissau is back on the international scene and ready to move forward with the support of the EU. We will in the coming months finalise the programming of the 11th European Development Fund and align our cooperation with the priorities of the national development strategy of the government.”

Since Guinea-Bissau won independence from Portugal in 1974, no elected leader has completed a five-year term. In the absence of strong leadership, the country has become a transit point for South American cocaine destined for European markets.

In the aftermath of a military coup in April 2010, the EU imposed restrictions on its relations with Guinea-Bissau, saying that appointing those involved in the rebellion to high-ranking military posts was “in breach of the democratic principles”. The army, emboldened by its involvement in frequent military coups, has been accused by the US and other governments of complicity in drug-trafficking.

After Guinea-Bissau’s elections in May last year, which the EU dubbed “free and credible”, the union temporarily suspended restrictions on its relations with the country.

But lingering tensions between President José Mário Vaz and Domingos Simões Pereira, the prime minister, continue to simmer and could lead to a new political crisis, said Rinaldo Depagne, west Africa director at the International Crisis Group (ICG). “The two must keep disagreements out of the vital initiative to improve the security establishment, a burden that has blocked the country’s path to development for too long,” he said.

Martins said the 2014 election has given the country the chance to make a clean start, but it needs support from foreign partners.

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, president of the ICG, said: “Help from international partners is of critical importance to support Guinea-Bissau’s security reforms. When they meet in Brussels on 25 March, they should approve more funds to support the government’s five-year reform plan, confirm aid for the Economic Community of West African States’s military mission until 2019, and create an appropriate monitoring committee. This will send a strong message of support for a country that could become a bright spot in west Africa.”

Source: The Guardian

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