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Published: Thursday February 20, 2014 MYT 4:35:15 AM
Updated: Thursday February 20, 2014 MYT 4:36:07 AM

Sao Tome names new military chief amid army unrest

SAO TOME (Reuters) - Sao Tome and Principe's president swore in a new military chief on Wednesday to try to quell growing unrest within the army and head off potential instability in the tiny Central African island nation.

About 300 junior and non-commissioned officers went on strike earlier this month, raising concerns that military officers might again seek to take power following two failed coups in 1995 and 2003.

As well as better pay, the soldiers are demanding improved living conditions and have criticised what they consider the high salaries and generous perks received by senior officers.

Speaking briefly to journalists after his swearing-in, Colonel Justino Lima, previously military adviser to President Manuel Pinto da Costa, promised to "impose military discipline in the barracks". He called on the army to respect the law and the constitution.

The previous military chief of staff, Brigadier Felisberto Maria Segundo, stepped down on February 13, three days after a presidential honour guard failed to report for duty at the airport as President Pinto da Costa left on a state visit.

Since holding its first multi-party elections in 1991, Sao Tome and Principe, with a population of 180,000, has avoided the political violence that has plagued neighbours on the Central African mainland.

However, political wrangling has led to regular changes of government in the former Portuguese colony.

Rising prices of staple foods, electricity, water and education are a source of discontent. Two months ago, President Pinto da Costa called for a national dialogue between the government and civil society in an effort to ensure stability.

A neighbour to major oil producers Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome's potential petroleum wealth has piqued the interest of international companies. However, the sector has yet to take off and development assistance accounts for 85 percent of the nation's budget, according to the World Bank.

(Reporting by Ricardo Neto; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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