BISSAU (Reuters) - Guinea Bissau’s former head of military intelligence was shot dead at a bar in the capital Bissau overnight just hours after a peaceful presidential vote, witnesses and a security source said on Monday.
The killing of Colonel Samba Diallo follows a rash of political assassinations in the tiny West African state, a known haven for cocaine smugglers, at a time when the election was meant to usher in a period of greater stability.
A resident of Diallo’s neighbourhood told Reuters that men armed with military-issue automatic weapons shot Diallo just before midnight on Sunday. Another witness said he saw Diallo’s body at a hospital morgue after the shooting.
Guinea Bissau’s armed forces have been notoriously unruly since independence from Portugal in 1974, and violent rivalries have been intensified by the rise of drug smuggling from Latin America to Europe via West Africa.
Diallo was widely feared during his time as head of military intelligence and is believed to have played a role in many coups and political assassinations, diplomatic sources said.
Officials denied that the shooting was related to the election. “The events of yesterday have nothing to do with the election. Nothing, absolutely nothing should put in doubt the smooth development of the electoral process,” military spokesman Daha Bana told Reuters.
Election commission president Desejado Lima da Costa said after meeting military officials: “We have been assured total cooperation by the armed forces in ensuring security for the electoral process all the way to the finish.”
Family members gathered on Monday morning at Diallo’s house, a small cinderblock building with a tin roof. Women moaned and held their heads and young men gathered on the roadside.
“I don’t know if this was related to the election or not,” said his wife Fatoumata, who was with him at the bar when he was shot.
Diallo was head of military intelligence under ex-Army Chief of Staff Jose Zamora Induta until the two were deposed and temporarily jailed in an April 2010 mutiny that Western diplomats said was likely over control of the lucrative drugs trade between Latin America and Europe.
Former prime minister and now ruling party presidential candidate Carlos Gomes Junior was also briefly arrested during the mutiny but has since said he has developed a “good working relationship with the military”.
Campaigning and voting in the presidential election, held to replace president Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in a Paris hospital in January after a long illness, was peaceful.
Gomes Junior is favourite to win the poll, but faces a tough challenge from Manuel Sherifo Nhamadjo, who dropped out of the ruling party to run against him, and former president Kumba Yala, who shares the Balanta ethnicity with a quarter of the population and most of the army.
Gomes Junior’s rivals accuse him of fomenting instability and tolerating increased drugs-running during his time as premier - a period of many political assassinations including that of President Joao Bernardo Vieira in 2009.
Gomes Junior has denied the accusations, and his outspoken opposition to drugs has helped win him tacit support from foreign partners like the United States and Angola.
Guinea Bissau, a country of 1.6 million people whose main official export is cashew nuts, is rich in natural resources but has failed to draw investment due to near-constant turmoil since independence from Portugal.
Angola, which is trying to develop a bauxite mine and build a deepwater port in the south, is trying to help Guinea Bissau reform its unruly army.
Editing by Tim Pearce