West Africa bloc calls for civilian rule in Guinea

AP News
Posted: Dec 06, 2009 6:32 PM

A regional African bloc on Sunday called for Guinea to return to civilian rule as the junta's No. 2 assumed control of the country following an assassination attempt on its leader.

Gen. Sekouba Konate, the vice president of the military junta, rushed back to Guinea's capital from overseas to take charge following a Thursday assassination attempt on the junta's president.

Guinea's military leader Capt. Moussa "Dadis" Camara was airlifted Friday to Morocco where he received surgery for trauma to the cranium, Morocco's chief military doctor Brig. Gen. Ali Abrouq said Sunday.

Abrouq said in the statement carried Sunday by the official MAP news agency that "the follow-up (to the surgery) is favorable" and Camara is doing fine.

But a diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter told the AP that the bullet had caused a splinter of bone to pierce Camara's brain and that doctors still did not know if he would make a full recovery.

Traffic returned to normal in the Guinean capital, but many remained tense and late Sunday a volley of shots rang out from an area of the Guinean capital flanking the barracks of the country's presidential guard. The sound of gunfire started a few hours after state TV announced a toll-free number where citizens could call if they had information about the wanted head of the presidential guard, who opened fire on the country's leader.

Konate's return to Guinea was met with a call from ECOWAS, a regional bloc of West African states, to immediately hand over power to civilians.

The statement issued by ECOWAS on Sunday called on the junta to put in place a transitional authority and to organize elections, in which no members of the junta will be allowed to run.

The junta seized power in a coup last December and the coup leaders promised to organize elections and hand over power to civilians within one year. But Camara quickly reversed course. In September, his presidential guard opened fire on unarmed demonstrators who had gathered to demand that Camara step aside.

The army killed at least 157 people and the red beret-wearing soldiers then dragged dozens of women onto the stadium grass, gang-raping them in broad daylight, according to numerous witnesses and human rights groups.

The shocking level of violence further divided the already splintered army, with commanders that were not present demanding that the junta leader arrest those who took part in the killings. Konate himself is said to have personally pressed for the arrest of the head of the presidential guard, Lt. Abubakar "Toumba" Diakite, who is believed to have led the killings.

Toumba was never arrested and on Thursday, he shot the coup leader allegedly following an argument over who would take the fall for the September massacre, two government officials and a retired diplomat said.

The junta's Minister of Communications Idrissa Cherif described Camara's surgery as 'minor' and said that Camara is doing well.

"It was a very small surgical intervention which went very well. He woke up from surgery yesterday and spoke to his colleagues," he told The Associated Press on Sunday.

The attempted assassination revealed the precarious nature of the Guinean army, which is said to be divided into camps loyal to individual army strongmen.

Since seizing power, the junta has laid waste to the country's economy, already one of the poorest in Africa even though it has half the world's reserves of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum. In September, Guinea defaulted on its repayment of a loan to the World Bank causing the bank to freeze the country's account, said a bank official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

The cost of basic staples like rice and cooking oil have spiked, causing economic hardship.

At least 100 families whose relatives attended the Sept. 28 protest calling for Camara to step down have still not recovered the bodies of their relatives. An investigation by U.S.-based Human Rights Watch found that the military commandeered the capital's morgues and seized bodies, transporting them to military bases and hiding them, presumably in mass graves, in an effort to cover up the extent of the army-led massacre.

ECOWAS had imposed an arms embargo on the military junta following the massacre.

The European Union also imposed an arms embargo and visa ban on Guinea's military leaders in October to punish them for the killings at the pro-democracy rally.


Paul Schemm in Rabat, Morocco contributed to this report.