By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife with reports from Africa
BISSAU,GUINEA-BISSAU (BosNewsLife)– Minority Christians and missionaries were among those anxiously looking to the future of Guinea-Bissau Monday, March 2, as officials confirmed that President Joao Bernardo Vieira was killed, hours after the West African nation’s armed forces chief died in a bomb blast.
It was not immediately clear whether a coup was under way, but automatic gunfire and heavier explosions were heard in Guinea-Bissau’s capital, Bissau early Monday, March 2, before a tense calm returned.
Luis Sanca, security adviser to Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr., confirmed the president’s death but gave no details.
Earlier a bomb blast Sunday night, March 1, killed armed forces chief of staff Gen. Batiste Tagme na Waie at his headquarters in the capital Bissau, state radio reported.
News reports said Vieira was killed by soldiers as he tried to flee from his house after he was linked to the death of armed forces chief Tagme Na Waie.
On Sunday, the military immediately shut down private local radio stations after Waie’s death, as soldiers began searching for the attackers, media reported.
This was the second attempt to kill the president. Soldiers fired on the home of Guinea-Bissau President Vieira in November in an apparent coup attempt, the Voice of America (VOA) network said. In 2005, former President Vieira was re-elected president pledging to pursue economic development and national reconciliation.
It came at an already difficult moment for minority Christians and missionaries who have been involved in aid programs. The Servants to Missions group said Guinea-Bissau, one of the poorest in the world, has a long history of unrest.
It said he had been attempting to spread the Gospel “of hope” with project Jericho aimed at “surrounding the eastern region” of the country, “with God’s Word and His people,” and said the predominantly Muslim population was open for Christian aid.
The killing of the president Monday, March 2, couldn’t come at a worse moment as the country is struggling to overcome social upheaval, Servants to Missions and other sources suggested. “Babies are 27 times more likely to die here than in most developed countries while the maternal death rate is 600 times higher,” the group said. “The average life expectancy is estimated at 44 years,” as besides diseases and a lack of adequate medical facilities, “Malnutrition is of deep concern,” the group said.
Christians comprise at least five percent of the population, including a tiny evangelical group, with the rest made up of Muslims and followers of indigenous beliefs, according to official estimates. Religious groups can operate, but have to be “licensed” by authorities, the United States State Department said in a recent report.