Guinea-Bissau 'coup conspirators' jailed: judicial source

A group of soldiers accused of an attack on an elite commando barracks which the Guinea Bissau government described as an attempted coup were jailed for up five years, a judicial source said on Friday.

The 12 defendants were convicted of crimes against the security of the state and attacking a military unit on October 21 last year after a dawn raid which left seven people dead, including six of the attackers.

Three were jailed for five years by the Bissau regional court while two others were handed terms of three years and a further seven got sentences of six months to a year, the source told AFP.

Another five accused were acquitted because of a lack of evidence by the court, presided over by an army officer assisted by military and civilian judges.

The men had originally been assigned to a court martial but were tried in a mixed court because of a lack of legal experts in the armed forces to deal with the case.

"We are going to appeal to a higher military court because the court was unable to prove the involvement of our clients in an operation to destabilise the government of Guinea-Bissau," defence lawyer Gabriel Lopes Pereira told AFP.

Captain Pansau N'Tchama, the head of a commando unit that is believed to have assassinated president Joao Bernardo Vieira in 2009, was originally accused of being the ringleader and was among the three men given the toughest sentences.

Transitional authorities in Guinea Bissau have accused former colonial power Portugal of instigating the attack in a bid to reinstate former prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior who was ousted in an April 12 coup.

The coup bid caused further turmoil in the west African nation which has suffered chronic instability since independence from Portugal in 1974 due to conflict between the army and state.

No president has ever completed a full term in office.

Coups, counter-coups and regular assassinations have also made the unstable nation an attractive destination for South American druglords seeking a hub to move cocaine into Europe.