BISSAU (Reuters) - About 70 soldiers from Burkina Faso were deployed in Guinea-Bissau on Thursday, the advance party of a 600-strong West African force that is due to replace Angolan troops and oversee a transition back to civilian rule.
Plagued by decades of coups and instability and now also a major hub for cocaine shipments from Latin America to Europe, an army putsch ousted the former Portuguese colony's civilian government on April 12.
A Reuters reporter in Bissau said the Burkinabe soldiers and policemen arrived in a civilian jet and were unarmed. They have set up base in Cumere, 35 km (21 miles) northeast of the capital.
"These 70 soldiers and para-militaries are being deployed to accompany the country during its one year transitional period," Ansumane Cisse, the top civilian official from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the country, told journalists watching the troops arrive.
Members of Guinea-Bissau's military were also at the airport but did not comment.
It was not immediately clear when the remaining soldiers, due to come from Nigeria, Senegal and Togo, would arrive.
The ECOWAS force is due to replace an Angolan mission, which had been in the country for about a year, but which fell out with local military officers.
Since the coup, mediation by ECOWAS has led to the swearing in of an interim president, prime minister and government tasked with managing a one-year transitional period.
The West African force is due to oversee that transition and help push through reforms of the army, which has long meddled in politics and, in recent years, has been widely accused of facilitating the drugs trade.
Carlos Gomes Junior, the former prime minister who was a presidential front-runner before the polls were cut short by the coup, has said he does not recognize the new authorities and has accused ECOWAS of legitimizing the coup leaders.
(Reporting by Alberto Dabo; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Andrew Osborn)