Page last updated at 18:14 GMT, Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Author stumbles on G-Bissau drama

Frederick Forsyth
The double assassination could have come straight from a Forsyth thriller

Author Frederick Forsyth has told the BBC of his surprise to find himself in Guinea-Bissau on the day the president and army chief were assassinated.

The British writer flew in to research a new book as the country was plunged into a drama that could have leapt from the pages of one of his thrillers.

The Day of the Jackal author told of the "bizarre" events as renegade troops "rather slowly" killed the president.

He said the drama was "garnish on the cake" that might be in his new novel.

The writer was at pains to point out: "I can assure you I had nothing to do with the coup d'etat."


Forsyth has previously admitted helping to finance a 1973 coup attempt in another West African state, Equatorial Guinea.

Those events were the inspiration for his 1974 book The Dogs of War, which chronicles a failed plan by a group of European mercenaries to topple the government of a fictional African country.

Forsyth added that this week's turmoil in Guinea-Bissau was more a battle between two bitter political enemies than a coup.

The best-selling author arrived in Guinea-Bissau from the Portuguese capital Lisbon just after the army chief-of-staff, General Tagme Na Waie, was assassinated on Sunday.

He was trying to sleep in his hotel room in the early hours of Monday morning when he heard an explosion.

Late Guinea-Bissau President Joao Bernardo Vieira (file image)
President Vieira had a long and bloody death, according to Forsyth
It was the roof of the presidential villa collapsing as soldiers launched an apparent tit-for-tat attack on veteran ruler Joao Bernardo Vieira.

"They went to his villa, threw a bomb through the window which hurt him, but didn't kill him," Forsyth told the BBC's World Today programme.

"The roof came down, that hurt him but didn't kill him either. He struggled out of the rubble and was promptly shot. This, however, still didn't kill him.

"They then took him to his mother-in-law's house and chopped him to bits with machetes."

Mr Forsyth, who had dinner with the forensic pathologist investigating the assassination on Monday evening, has a theory why this happened.

We are not talking about two Mother Theresas here
Frederick Forsyth

"Basically these two men absolutely loathed each other," he said.

"The president was a very violent man and the chief-of-staff was a pretty violent man too. We are not talking about two Mother Theresas here".

His pointed out the army chief-of-staff was a member of the old military junta which governed the country before President Vieira was returned to power in 2005.

"There was no love lost between them because the old general didn't like the newly arrived populist president," said Forsyth.

He added: "It looks like one tried to get rid of the threat the other posed."

The writer said he was "rather upset" because the double assassination had disrupted his travel plans.

"I can't get out now," he said. "I was due to fly out tomorrow afternoon, and I rather think that they're going to keep the airport closed, which is very inconvenient."

But all is not lost. Mr Forsyth said he will probably use some of the real-life drama for his new novel.

"What I was researching had nothing to do with bumping off generals or bumping off presidents," he said.

"But it's a little extra garnish on the cake, so I'll probably use it eventually in the book."

Forsyth appears to attract trouble whenever he visits this part of the world.

The former BBC foreign correspondent recalled that while flying into the region decades ago to cover the Biafra War, a bullet passed between his legs as he sat in the back of an ammunition plane.

"I'm not vastly enamoured of the place, but there we are," he said.

Print Sponsor

'I saw Bissau rocket attack'
02 Mar 09 |  Africa
Country profile: Guinea-Bissau
02 Mar 09 |  Country profiles

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific