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Guinea Bissau arrests suspected counter-coup bid leader

BISSAU (Reuters) - The suspected leader of a failed October 21 counter-coup attempt in Guinea-Bissau was arrested on Saturday, witnesses and a security official said.

Captain Pansao Ntchama, a bodyguard to the then head of the army under ousted Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, and four other suspects were detained at a farm on an island near the West African country's capital Bissau.

"Ntchama and his men have been incarcerated in a cell at the headquarters of the armed forces," an army officer told Reuters, requesting not to be named.

On Monday, a spokesman for Guinea-Bissau's caretaker government said Ntchama had used a vehicle belonging to a former member of Gomes Junior's government to carry out the October 21 attack on an air force base in which seven people were killed.

Tensions between Guinea-Bissau and its former colonial ruler Portugal have soared since a military coup in April derailed a presidential election that Portuguese-backed Gomes Junior was widely favored to win.

Guinea-Bissau has accused Portuguese authorities of seeking to return Gomes Junior - in exile in Portugal - to power and said Lisbon was behind the failed counter-coup bid.

The April election was meant to shore up stability in the impoverished cashew-producer nation, which has earned a reputation as a haven for Latin American drugs cartels ferrying cocaine to Europe.

Gomes Junior was released by the military after the coup but forced to leave the country under a deal brokered by the West African regional bloc ECOWAS. He has said he hopes to return to Bissau to rule.

The caretaker government said this week it had sent an extradition request to Portugal for Gomes Junior.

(Reporting by Alberto Dabo; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Ralph Gowling)

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