Guinea accuses France of complicity in shooting

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2009 3:51 PM

The French ambassador was stopped and his diplomatic car was searched as troops loyal to Guinea's ruling junta continued a manhunt for the renegade soldier that shot and wounded the head of Guinea's military junta, an official said on Tuesday.

The search of a diplomatic car is a violation of international law and is evidence of how uncontrolled the Guinean military has become following the assassination attempt on their leader who was evacuated overseas for emergency treatment last week, said a diplomat who had been briefed on the matter.

Guinea's communications minister said he could not comment on the search of the ambassador's car, but accused the French secret service of "being complicit in the assassination attempt." He said that "only France knows where to find" Lt. Abubakar "Toumba" Diakite, the former head of the presidential guard who opened fire on Capt. Moussa "Dadis" Camara last Thursday, wounding him in the head and forcing him to leave the country for emergency surgery in Morocco.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said the claims by Guinea's communications minister were "absurd rumors that I forcefully deny." A spokesman for the French ambassador in Conakry said that he had no comment about the search of the diplomat's car.

The incident was confirmed by a diplomat who had been briefed on the matter and a person close to the French embassy. The two said that the ambassador and his wife had gone to the airport Monday, when soldiers surrounded their car which was clearly marked with diplomatic plates and demanded they be allowed to search it in violation of international treaties. The ambassador's' bodyguards were forced to lie down on the pavement as soldiers pointed rocket launchers at them, while the car was searched.

Earlier this year, Camara dismissed the French foreign minister's call for international intervention in Guinea after soldiers here opened fire on demonstrators. Human rights groups say at least 157 people were killed and that dozens of female demonstrators were dragged to the ground and gang raped by soldiers loyal to Camara.

Camara, who seized power in a coup a year ago, called French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's comments an "affront to the dignity" of African people in an interview with France 24 radio and television.

Minister of Communications Idrissa Cherif declined to say how many people had been arrested in the sweep of the capital following the assassination attempt, but human rights groups have been getting reports of numerous civilians being rounded up and taken to the capital's main military barracks. A video posted on YouTube showed two soldiers who were believed to be close to Toumba being paraded in their underwear at the military camp in front of screaming soldiers. Their arms were bound behind their backs. Several of the detainees are believed to have been killed in custody.

Cherif said that some of them had committed suicide. "I don't yet have the full report of which of them are alive and which are dead, and which ones committed suicide," he said.

Thierno Sow, the head of a Guinean human rights group, said that his group had been receiving reports of torture from the camp.

It still remained unclear Tuesday how badly wounded Camara was following last week's attack. In an effort to tamp down speculation that he was badly hurt, the country's foreign minister said Monday that Camara was conscious and speaking.

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.

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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.

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 pledged 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 later that he reversed course. In September, the presidential guard opened fire on unarmed protesters demanding an end to military rule.

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.

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Associated Press writer Angela Doland in Paris contributed to this report.