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A dangerous invitation declined

Marcus Ferrar's evocative Baron’s Briefing about the Portuguese Revolution of 1973 and particularly his trip to the Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau remind me of a risky invitation that I received a decade earlier, and quickly declined.

I was a Reuters correspondent based in the neighbouring former French colony of Guinea in 1963-64. Conakry, the capital, was a safe haven for many African revolutionary groups, including the anti-Portugal PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde), founded in 1956.

I knew its two leaders, the brothers Amilcar and Luis Cabral. They seemed rather more serious than many of the champagne guerrillas from elsewhere in Africa who hogged the diplomatic cocktail parties of Conakry.

In January 1963, the PAIGC held a press conference in Conakry to announce a ‘War of Independence’ against Portuguese colonial rule. This was one of the few stories from my time in Guinea that won any headlines outside the region.

The PAIGC campaign was backed by the Soviet Union, Cuba and China. Guinea was evidently turning a blind eye to weapons being smuggled across the unmarked jungle border from Guinea into Guinea-Bissau. The United States, worried about Communist influence, protested to Guinean President  Ahmed Sékou Touré.

The Cabral brothers, claiming increasing military successes against the Portuguese colonial forces, invited me and a few foreign reporters/stringers based in Conakry to come over and see for ourselves.

This would have involved an illegal, clandestine mission across the border somewhere in the thick forests of the interior.

The brothers were keen to show us the territory their troops had seized. We would have safe passage, they assured us.

I had no hesitation in respectfully declining the invitation. The other foreign reporters did the same. I didn't even bother to ask Reuters. I could imagine the international reaction if I had been taken prisoner by the Portuguese, or worse.

As I moved on to other Reuters assignments I lost touch with events in West Africa.  I was sorry to learn later that Amilcar Cabral had been assassinated.  On the other hand, I was pleased that Luis Cabral became the first President of independent Guinea-Bissau in 1974.  He deserved it after so many years of struggle.