Bissau (AFP) July 31, 2010
Guinea Bissau has identified nearly 6,000 military veterans, according to a census released Friday as part of a raft of security reforms aimed at ending a cycle of coups by an overly-powerful army.
"Our teams traveled across the country to identify and record all veterans" from Guinea Bissau's 1962-1973 independence war against Portugal, said Malam Djassi, head of the census commission. "We have identified 5,883."
"This census will allow us to have a reliable database to better manage conditions for our veterans," Defense Minister Aristides Ocante Da Silva told a ceremony to hand out biometric identification cards to the veterans.
Better conditions, it is hoped, will encourage veterans and older servicemen to leave the army, which many are reluctant to do, and help the troubled west African country to meet its demobilisation targets.
"The goal is to reduce the size of armed forces to 3440 men to be in conformity with the number set by donors in the context of reforms of the armed forces," said Djassi.
Guinea Bissau's active military consists of some 4458 men, according to the census citing European Union figures from 2008. But the true figure is thought to be above 5,000, including 40 percent of veterans from the independence war.
Political columnist Rui Landim told AFP "There are veterans and soldiers of retirement age who refuse to leave the army because the state is unable to pay their pension."
The census of veterans was launched in 2008, but has been interrupted amid several political crises in the west African nation. The figure of 5,883 was believed to include all but a few hundred men who did not present themselves to the census agents.
The demilitarisation reform is crucial in a country plagued by coups since independence in 1974, resulting in an instability that has attracted South American drug cartels to use the country as a transit point to Europe.
The EU and other partners such as the United States have been assisting in the downsizing and restructuring of the Guinea-Bissau army.
However an army mutiny in April and subsequent appointment of the leader of the revolt General Antonio Indjai as army chief led the US to withdraw all military assistance while the EU is reviewing its aid to the country.
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