West Africa's regional economic body on Sunday called for troops to be sent to Guinea to prevent violence in the wake of an assassination attempt against the military leader earlier this month and a bloody massacre in September.
Economic Community of West African States chief Mohammed Ibn Chambas said troops are needed to protect civilians and prevent violence from spreading to neighboring countries. He spoke during a Sunday meeting with diplomats from the U.S., the African Union and the European Union, who met to discuss a plan to return Guinea to civilian rule.
"Because of the great threats to human rights and uncontrollable violence, I propose that we recommend to our superiors a preventive deployment of a force to protect civilians and give aid, which will contribute to setting up an atmosphere of security for the Guinean population," he said. "All the ingredients of an explosive situation have come together today in Guinea."
Chambas added that he worried that violence in Guinea would spread to nearby countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia, which are trying to recover from a brutal civil war.
Mineral-rich Guinea has been ruled by strongmen for decades. Capt. Moussa "Dadis" Camara seized power in a coup last December, just hours after the death of longtime dictator Lansana Conte. On Dec. 3, Camara's top aide, Lt. Abubakar "Toumba" Diakite, shot him in the head. Camara was flown to Morocco for treatment the next day. The 45-year-old has not spoken publicly since the shooting, leading many to speculate he is in a coma.
Hardly anyone had heard of Camara, an army captain in his 40s, when his men broke down the glass doors of the state TV station last December. He announced that the constitution had been dissolved and that the country was now under the rule of a military junta. He launched an anti-corruption crackdown and publicly interrogated top officials of the former regime accused of drug trafficking and graft.
He promised to quickly hand over power to civilians in elections in which he would not run. But he began dropping hints that he planned to run after all, prompting the a massive pro-democracy protest in the capital on Sept. 28 in which members of the presidential guard shot at demonstrators, killing 157 people, according to human rights groups. Women were raped in the streets by soldiers shouting slogans in support of Camara.
Top union boss Rabiatou Serah Diallo, who had repeatedly pressed Camara to step down and allow elections, said Guinea's people were ready to get rid of military rule.
"We must come together as one to settle this crisis and say, 'Never again.' This is the first time since 1958 that a president has been shot in our country," she said, referring to the year of Guinea's independence from France. "It was the first time, on the 28th of September, that women were raped in plain sight, in the street. And that's enough. We must all say, 'That's enough.'"