Commando units arrest civilians in Guinea

AP News
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Posted: Dec 07, 2009 6:13 PM

Commando units loyal to the wounded leader of Guinea's military junta swept through neighborhoods near the capital on Monday, arresting civilians believed to have ties with the renegade soldier that tried to assassinate their leader.

The arrests came as the ruling junta tried to reassure the population about the president's health, insisting that that Capt. Moussa "Dadis" Camara was recovering well from a surgery in a Moroccan hospital where he had been rushed for emergency treatment, but the capital remained tense as the fate of the military dictatorship remained unknown.

Residents said that at least three military pickup trucks filled with soldiers wearing fetishes in their hair descended on a street of corrugated tin shops, looking for a marabout, or local witch doctor. The young man fled but was pursued by the soldiers, who opened fire, wounding him, said the residents who showed the AP the trail of blood he left in the alley down which he tried to run. He is rumored to have been one of the witch doctors that performed spells for Lt. Abubakar "Toumba" Diakite, the former head of the presidential guard, who opened fire on the head of the junta last Thursday.

The security sweep showed that the military is widening its net to include civilians. Earlier, only soldiers allied with Diakite had been arrested. The arrests came one day after the junta announced a toll-free number where citizens could call with tips on the whereabouts of the wanted lieutenant.

The soldiers came back three different times, arresting four people in all, including an imam in his 70s or 80s who was returning from evening prayers at the local mosque. The arrests and the volleys of gunfire sowed panic. It reverberated across the capital as Guinea entered a fifth day without a clear sense of whether the 45-year-old army captain who grabbed power in a coup a year ago would survive his wounds.

In an effort to tamp down speculation that he was badly hurt, the country's foreign minister said Monday that Camara is conscious and speaking.

"I saw him, I spoke to him, he answered me, all this shows that he retains his mental faculties," Alexandre Cece Loua told the AP in the Moroccan capital, Rabat. "He recognizes his entourage. His breathing is not assisted."

But a doctor who saw Camara's CAT scan and who agreed to speak to the AP on the condition of anonymity due to patient confidentiality said the bullet had skimmed the right side of the leader's skull, causing a splinter of bone to wedge itself in his brain. He said the injury could be life-threatening if it causes excessive swelling in the brain, but he added that he was told by the technician who administered the scan that Camara had been able to step inside the CAT scan tunnel without assistance _ indicating that he was still mobile before the surgery was performed.

Even if the piece of bone can be removed, the doctor said Camara could suffer mental impairments, especially memory loss, given that the frontal part of the brain, where memory is stored, was touched.

Opposition leaders held a meeting Monday at the home of Jean Marie Dore, the spokesman for the various opposition voices in the country.

"What we need to know is the exact status of his health. How is he really doing? Until we know that, it is very hard to make a decision on how to move forward."

Camara came to power last December after the death of the country's former strongman, Lansana Conte _ who was also a captain in the Guinean army when he grabbed power 24 years earlier. Conte's regime had been marked by excessive corruption and Camara promised he had come to "clean." He promised to punish all those who had embezzled from the state and then to hand over power to civilians in democratic elections in which he would not run.

It was only months before he reversed course. In September, the presidential guard opened fire on unarmed protesters demanding an end to military rule, killing at least 157 people. Dozens of women were raped by the presidential guard, including with rifle barrels. Several died after the soldiers who raped them shot them in their genitals.

The shocking level of violence prompted the African Union and the European Union to immediately impose an arms embargo on Guinea and to impose sanctions, including a travel ban on top members of the junta. The army, which was already deeply divided, began to fracture further as leaders of the massacre began pointing the finger at each other.

The tension increased last week as a U.N. commission investigating the killings began interviewing members of the junta in an effort to assign blame.

Residents feel helpless in the face of the heavily armed presidential guard, whose members zoom through town in pickups, pushing other cars onto the shoulder. Residents say the guardsmen routinely enter bars, order what they want and leave without paying. Gas stations close early because they are afraid the armed men will demand their tanks be filled for free.

In the Conakry suburb of Cosa, debris the soldiers left behind was strewn in the narrow alleys. A torn poster of an opposition leader lay on the ground. So did a pile of cowrie shells from the witch doctor's shop. Another shop had six holes where a soldier had tried to cut his way in with a machete.

The marabout's blood was still visible, a dotted line in the direction of where he had tried to flee.

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Associated Press writer Paul Schemm contributed to this report from Rabat, Morocco.