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BISSAU (Reuters) - Guinea-Bissau's army chief vowed on Thursday to never retire or resign, casting doubt over any future civilian government's attempt to wrest back control of the West African nation from the army.
The country was thrown into turmoil last year when soldiers under the command of General Antonio Injai ousted interim President Raimundo Pereira and Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior days before a runoff election Gomes Junior was favored to win.
The transitional government now plans to hold a long-delayed legislative and presidential election on November 24, hoping to end decades of instability in the former Portuguese colony that has become a hub for drug trafficking to Europe.
But Injai's stance casts doubts over the army's willingness relinquish control and allow much needed reforms of the army.
"I will neither resign, nor retire," Injai said in a speech during a security conference in capital Bissau.
The conference was attended by Prime Minister Rui Duate de Barros, president of Bissau's national assembly Ibrahima Sory Diallo, members of the government and senior military officers.
Though rich in natural resources including minerals, cashews and some of the world's best fishing offshore, political instability has hindered investment and kept most of Guinea Bissau's 1.6 million people mired in poverty.
Thin law enforcement and alleged state and army complicity have allowed South American cartels to use the country as shipment hub for cocaine bound for Europe and the United States for more than a decade.
Injai is the target of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into plots to traffic cocaine to the United States and sell weapons to Colombian rebels.
Injai denied the charges during the conference on Thursday.
"I call such unfounded accusations, disrespect," he said.
A high-seas sting operation in April by U.S. justice officials that targeted Bissau's top military brass suspected of being involved in drug trafficking, saw the capture former navy chief Admiral Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto.
Injai said he would take his own if any attempt was made to capture him.
"No one can arrest me because I will kill myself as soon as the enemy approaches. I swear," Injai said.
(Reporting by Alberto Dabo; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Alison Williams)