Thursday, December 25, 2008

Guinea News Bulletin: AU Condemns Coup; Military Tightens Grip; Turmoil Prompts Mining Concerns

African Union Condemns Guinea Coup Attempt

By Peter Heinlein
Addis Ababa
24 December 2008

The African Union has condemned the attempt by military officers in Guinea to seize power following the death of President Lansana Conte. The continent's top peace and security officials are calling the attempted coup a worrisome sign of a reversal in Africa's trend toward multi-party democracy.

The AU Peace and Security Council spent most of the day in emergency session Wednesday, debating the text of a statement condemning what they call an attempt to overthrow constitutional order in Guinea. Afterward, Zambia's AU Ambassador Patrick Sinyinza, who holds the rotating Council chairmanship, expressed concern that recent events in Mauritania and now in Guinea could signal a return to the era of seizing power by force in Africa.

"We have had either coup attempts or countries on the verge of coup d'etats or any insurgency by the, either in the military sector or by individuals to change government by force, we are saying we are not for that, and Africa needs to build on the issue of democracy and good governance," he said. "A road that Africa I think has been on, and we should not have the reversals we seem to be experiencing."

AU backs constitutional rule

AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra called the toughly-worded communiqué an expression of the Council's resolve to preserve constitutional order in Guinea.

"Clearly, the situation developing in Guinea is being looked at as an attempted coup d'etat which we condemn and which we seek to reverse, meaning that we strongly support actions being taken to strengthen the constitutional institutions of Guinea," he said.

Lamamra said he was heartened that not all of Guinea's armed forces are supporting the coup attempt, and expressed hope that elections would be held within months to choose a successor to President Conte.

"We are far from concluding that the armed forces are all of them committing an act against the constitution, and we hope that by the next summit of the African Union, the legally authorized personalities would be the ones representing the country, and if the calculation is right, probably the election would be taking place right after the holding of the African Union summit 60 days from yesterday," he said.

AU delegation will travel to Guinea

Lamamra said Africa's top diplomat, AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping is considering leading a high-ranking delegation to Conakry within the next 24 hours. The delegation would try to calm tensions and advocate restoration of constitutional order, as well as attending President Conte's funeral, which is set for Friday.

The attempted coup mirrored Mr. Conte's own rise to power in a 1984 military takeover after the death of his predecessor, Ahmed Sekou Toure. AU diplomats also noted this attempt came months after Mauritania's first democratically elected president was deposed in a military coup.

Mauritania's membership in the African Union was suspended after the coup, and Commissioner Lamamra hinted the same fate could await Guinea if constitutional order is not restored.

Coup leaders tighten grip in Guinea

CONAKRY (AFP) - - A military junta has tightened its grip on Guinea, calling for a nationwide curfew and ruling out elections for two years as its leader paraded through the capital with hundreds of troops.

The putschists issued a statement declaring that Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, a mid-ranking officer who had previously been head of the military's fuel supplies unit, was now in charge.

Camara, who led a coup in Guinea following the death of president Lansana Conte, told journalists late Wednesday that he was the new "president of the republic."

"I am convinced, reassured that I am the president of the republic, the head of the (junta's) National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD)," he said at his first press conference, noting a "big movement of support" in the country "from the military camp to the level of the presidential palace."

Camara's remarks came as international condemnation grew against the putschists' bid for power following the death of long-time strongman Conte on Monday.

In an apparent show of strength, several hundred soldiers backing Camara left the main military base near the international airport and began parading through Conakry.

They stopped at another military base, Camp Kundara, which houses the presidential guard, then headed for the state broadcasting headquarters, some chanting: "Long live the new leader."

Camara joined them in different areas of the capital and a crowd of thousands of his supporters thronged the streets that surround the presidential palace and the government ministries, before dispersing peacefully.

International condemnation meanwhile grew with the African Union warning of "stern measures" if the military ignored calls to allow a democratic transition of power following the death of long-time dictator Conte.

Conte had ruled with an iron fist since 1984 and within hours of his passing late on Monday, a group of soldiers took control of the airwaves and claimed to have seized power in the impoverished but mineral-rich west African state.

The United States threatened to suspend its aid, some 15 million dollars this year, if military coup leaders do not take steps to return civilian rule.

"One of the things we want to see immediately is a restoration of a civilian democratic rule," said State Department spokesman Robert Wood.

Camara plans to lead a 32-member interim administration, made up of 26 military officers and six civilians, and has promised to hold new elections in December 2010.

In another appeasing move, the junta said that it would delay imposing a curfew until Friday "to allow Christians to celebrate a peaceful Christmas holiday," according to a statement read on national radio.

Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare has maintained his government is still in charge and the UN's special envoy to West Africa said Wednesday it was too early to gauge who was in control of the country.

"No camp has so far been able to ascertain its position," Said Djinnit told an emergency meeting of the African Union's Peace and Security Council in the Ethiopian capital.

"On the one hand, you've got a group of 32 people who wants power and pretends the situation is under their control. On the other hand, the government and the army chief staff are still there and claim they are in power."

In Dakar, the rights group, African Assembly for the Defence of Human Rights or Raddho, called on the international community to prevent "chaos" in Guinea, calling it a "veritable time bomb" in west Africa.

The putschists claimed to be acting to preserve Guinea's territorial integrity and alleged that troops loyal to the Conte regime had been seeking intervention from foreign mercenaries from neighbouring countries .

"People of Guinea, the seizure of power by your army is a civic act which responds to the wish to save a people in distress. Proud of having accomplished this task, (the junta) has no wish to cling on to power," a statement said.

Leader since 1984 when he ousted Guinea's first president Ahmed Sekou Toure, Conte was a chain smoker who suffered from chronic diabetes and was at one time diagnosed with leukemia.

He had relied on the army along with his clan to bolster his authority, but in recent years social tension and criticism of Conte's regime had become increasingly open.

Conte's state funeral will be held in his home village on Friday, a family source said.

Guinea, a small nation of about 10 million people, is the world's leading exporter of bauxite, an ore from which aluminium is produced.

Guinea junta promises elections in two years

Reprinted From the Financial Times

CONAKRY, Dec 24 - The military junta attempting a coup in Guinea promised on Wednesday to hold elections in two years time, but the West African state’s top civilian leader appealed to the world to prevent the takeover from succeeding.

There was confusion over who was really running the world’s biggest exporter of aluminium ore bauxite two days after the death of long-serving President Lansana Conte. His death left a power vacuum and triggered a coup bid by a group of officers.

The sprawling seaside capital Conakry was calm on Wednesday but soldiers patrolled the streets. Witnesses saw one heavily-armed group entering the central bank building.

Calling themselves the National Council for Democracy and Development, the coup junta has promised an anti-corruption clean-up and blamed the civilian government for ”catastrophic” economic conditions suffered by the population.

”The National Council for Democracy and Development commits to organise credible and transparent elections for the end of December 2010,” the junta, which earlier named its members, said in a broadcast from the national TV and radio it controls.

Its spokesman, Capt Moussa Camara, wearing a red beret, said the junta wanted to ”save a people in distress”. He called on the population not to hold any public demonstrations.

But Guinea’s civilian government leaders, including National Assembly President Aboubacar Sompare who under the constitution should be taking over as interim head of state, have refused to submit to the coup junta. The armed forces chief, General Diarra Camara, has also stayed loyal to the constitution.

The United Nations, African Union, European Union and United States have all condemned the latest breakdown in democracy in Africa, which follows post-election turmoil in Kenya and Zimbabwe and an August military coup in Mauritania.

”The international community must mobilise to prevent the military from interrupting the democratic process as laid down by the constitution,” Mr Sompare said. He said the coup-plotters were hunting for him, but he was in ”a safe place”.


Loyalist armed forces chief Diarra Camara has attempted to open negotiations with the coup leaders to persuade them to stay loyal to the constitution, which foresees elections being held within two months of the death of the president.

”The whole of Africa and the world is watching us,” Mr Diarra Camara told Radio France International.

”The situation hasn’t been resolved yet. Loyalists and coup-mongers have met in the (main military) camp but they haven’t been able to reach an agreement,” Mr Sompare said.

Earlier the junta announced the names of its 32 members, six of them civilians. They included General Mamadou ”Toto” Camara, head of the land army, officers from the main army base, camp Alpha Yaya Diallo in Conakry, and at least one from the elite ”red berets” presidential guard.

In the power vacuum left by the death of Conte, the diabetic chain-smoking general who had ruled with an iron fist since seizing power in 1984, it was still not clear who would eventually emerge to take full control of the country.

”The situation in Guinea remains calm but fluid. So far, none of the factions have assumed power. Indications are there is room for possible discussion,” said Said Djinnit, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa.

The African Union Peace and Security Council met in Addis Ababa and was expected to strongly oppose the coup bid.

Analysts said the passing of Conte would trigger renewed instability and possibly inter-ethnic infighting.

”Expect several months of political chaos with a high possibility of further coups, counter coups, and sham elections amid a period of ethnic and political disequilibrium,” Sebastian Spio-Garbrah of the Eurasia Group consultancy said.

Guinea turmoil prompts mining concerns

Financial Times
By William MacNamara in London
December 23 2008 19:39

Global mining groups Rio Tinto, Alcoa, and Rusal were scrambling on Tuesday to determine how an attempted coup in Guinea, the world’s biggest exporter of bauxite, would affect their investments in the west African state.

The aluminium industry is heavily dependent on Guinea, the biggest exporter of bauxite, the raw material used in manufacture of the metal. Guinea, in turn, relies on mining revenues.

But an attempted coup following the death of Lansana Conté, the long-serving dictator, has thrown into uncertainty the country’s politics and policies, including the status of a $6bn iron ore project that has pitted Rio Tinto against the government in a licence dispute.

A group of soldiers calling itself the National Council for Democracy and Development broadcast over state radio on Tuesday that it would dissolve the government, citing endemic corruption and an economic crisis. But the former president’s deputies appeared to retain partial control of the military, which guarded the capital Conakry.

Rio Tinto Alcan, which with Alcoa owns a 46 per cent stake of main bauxite miner Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, said bauxite production continued on Tuesday. Rusal, the Russian mining company, said its refinery was also unaffected.

Both companies said they could not comment on the political situation and that they were focused on the safety of staff.

Some commentators were concerned that Guinea’s worsening social problems could produce a new government that would undermine foreign investment in the country.

But others said that, in the long run, mining companies might benefit from the coup if the new regime proved to be less fickle than its predecessor.

“I would be surprised if what’s happening ends up being worse than the corruption and institutional paralysis prevailing just before Conté died,” said Boubacar Boucoum, mining specialist for the World Bank.

One mining title in the spotlight is Rio Tinto’s Simandou iron ore project. This month the company said it would delay development of the project. The company said that after that announcement, Guinea’s government had cut the concession in half and given the northern half to a company controlled by Israeli diamond trader Beny Steinmetz.

The price of aluminium has more than halved since August as global industry slows.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

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