* Attack aimed to return to power deposed PM, says
* Assailants "came from outside"
(Adds comments from Brazil and Cape Verde, paragraphs 11-14)
BISSAU, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Guinea-Bissau's interim
government accused Portugal and other Portuguese-speaking
countries of being behind an assault on an air force base,
saying it was part of a strategy to return to power the West
African nation's exiled former prime minister.
The military of the tiny coup-prone former Portuguese colony
repelled the attack near the capital Bissau early on Sunday
during a two-hour gun battle that killed six people.
"The attack ... is part of the strategy to bring (ex-prime
minister) Carlos Gomes Junior back to Guinea-Bissau, even at the
cost of human lives," government spokesman Fernando Vaz said in
a statement read on state radio on Sunday night.
"The tone of the speeches given by Portugal, the Community
of Portuguese-speaking Countries (CPLP) and Carlos Gomes Junior
was the precursor to the attack," he said.
Guinea-Bissau, a transit hub for Latin American cocaine
smuggled to Europe, is in the throes of a ragged recovery after
the army overthrew the government in April just weeks before a
second round presidential vote Gomes Junior was favoured to win.
The junta said Gomes Junior had a secret pact with Angola,
which had soldiers deployed in Bissau at the time, to eliminate
the military's leadership.
The West African regional bloc ECOWAS brokered a deal that
allowed a handover of power to a civilian interim government
charged with setting up new elections.
But interim president Manuel Sherifo Nhamadjo lacks the full
support of the United Nations, the European Union and the CPLP,
however, who say his government remains under army influence.
Portugal's foreign ministry said on Monday it would not
react to the accusations it was involved in Sunday's events. It
said earlier that it viewed the situation in the country "with
concern after another case of military movements.
"There is no military solution to problems faced by Guinea
Bissau. Only via a political process will it be possible to
overcome the current crisis situation in this friendly country,"
the statement read.
Brazil Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said stabilising
Guinea-Bissau will be a test for its partners.
"This will be a test for the subregional and multilateral
system: if it cannot establish a strategy of stabilisation for
Guinea-Bissau, it is hard to imagine how it will handle bigger
challenges when they arise," Patriota told reporters after
meeting with visiting Cape Verde Foreign Minister Jorge Borges.
Borges said West African nations were concerned that drug
trafficking and terrorism were undermining the stability of
Guinea-Bissau and Mali. Coups have become cyclical in
Guinea-Bissau, he said.
"The Guinea-Bissau people are hostage to a group of
politicians and military officers who do not dignify or
contribute in any way to the normal and desirable development of
the nation," Borges said.
The governments of other members of the CPLP grouping of
Portuguese-speaking countries Angola, Mozambique, Sao Tome and
Principe and East Timor, had no immediate comment.
ATTACKED FROM OUTSIDE
The country's interim prime minister said on Monday that
four of the six gunmen killed were from the Djolla ethnic group,
common in neighbouring Senegal's southern Casamance region. An
unknown number of attackers were also taken prisoner and others
remain at large.
"This attack did not come from inside the country and not
from the security and defence forces either. The attack ... came
from outside," transitional Prime Minister Rui Duarte de Barros
said during a meeting with diplomats.
Duarte de Barros said the attempted counter-coup was led by
Captain Pansao Ntchama, a bodyguard to the former head of the
army under Gomes Junior.
He said Ntchama had used a vehicle belonging to Thomas
Barboza, a former member of Gomes Junior's government, to carry
out the attack. He did not elaborate on how he knew this. The
vehicle was later recovered loaded with ammunition.
The authorities also arrested the leader of a political bloc
opposed to the junta, accusing him of having been involved in
Gomes Junior, who is currently living in exile in Portugal,
was not immediately reachable for comment.
Decades of turmoil and regular military coups since it won
independence in 1974 have ballooned the size of the army and
made Guinea-Bissau's maze of mangrove-lined islands a smuggling
route for Latin American drugs cartels.
The elections earlier this year were meant to put the
country on the road to stability and to improve its ability to
clamp down on drugs trafficking.
(Reporting by Alberto Dabo; Additional reporting by Anthony
Boadle in Brasilia; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Jon