Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Guinea News Bulletin: US, AU and ECOWAS Condemns Military/Police Crackdown; Over 150 Killed

US Condemns Violence Against Guinea Protesters

By David Gollust
State Department
30 September 2009

The United States has condemned the Guinean military's brazen and inappropriate use of force against demonstrators in Conakry Monday. News reports say at least 157 people were killed and more than 1,200 others wounded in a confrontation in the capital of the west African state.

The United States has joined the African Union, the European Union, the United Nations and others in condemning the attack by troops on civilians in Conakry Monday, one of the most severe incidents of violence in the region in many years.

Troops of the presidential guard of the country's military leader, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, are reported to have opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators who had gathered in Conakry to protest his plans to run in presidential elections in January.

When he took power in a coup last December, Captain Camara - who has ruled the country in an erratic fashion - had said no one on his ruling junta would run for public office.

A written statement by State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said the United States condemns the Guinean military's brazen and inappropriate use of force against civilians, and also took note of reports that military personnel carried out brutal rapes and sexual assaults on women protestors and bystanders.

Kelly called for the immediate release of opposition leaders and a return to civilian rule in Guinea as soon as possible and said the United States insists that junta members respect their commitments not to contest the upcoming elections.

Earlier Tuesday, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley said the casualty reports from Conakry were a matter of great concern to the Obama administration.

"We are deeply concerned about the general breakdown of security in Conakry," said P.J. Crowley. "We encourage the Guinean government to exercise restraint and insure the safety and security of all Guineans and foreign nationals. We are very concerned about violations of basic human rights and we call upon the regime to release all political prisoners.

The State Department said it would continue to monitor extralegal actions by the Guinean military and government, and work with partners in the international contact group on Guinea to support a peaceful transition there.

The contact group, which also includes the United Nations, European Union, the African Union and the west African grouping ECOWAS, urged Guinean leader Camara earlier this month to resist the temptation of running in the planned January 31 election.

It said the junta leader's credibility depended on his neutrality and that his role should be to unite rather than divide Guineans.

The State Department comments on Guinea Tuesday followed an appeal by a Washington-based lobbying group Africa Action for the United States to condemn the violence.

A spokesman for the group said Guinea, one of Africa's richest countries in terms of mineral wealth, must not be allowed to join the ranks of failed states.


ECOWAS Condemns Guinea Violence

By Peter Clottey
29 September 2009

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is expressing "disgust" at the violence in Guinea that left at least 58 people dead and several seriously injured.

Heavily armed security forces shot at thousands of protesters who were attempting to hold a rally at a national stadium against the possible presidential candidacy of military ruler Captain Moussa Dadis Camara.

Abdelfatau Musah is the ECOWAS political director. He told VOA that the sub-regional body wants the soldiers to return to the barracks.

"(We are) angry and disgusted. We requested that Captain Moussa Dadis Camara unambiguously declared his intention not to run in the forthcoming election because that is the bone of contention. Very little did we expect that he will go to this extent," Musah said.

He said the sub-regional body sharply condemns the violence.

"We are issuing a statement right now, today, condemning the violence in the strongest possible term," he said.

Musah said ECOWAS demands that the soldiers return to their camps.

"(We want them) to ask the military to get back immediately to the barracks and then to make sure that the preparation for the elections are put back on the agenda and that Dadis Camara goes back to the barracks and never even attempt to become a candidate in this election," Musah said.

He said Africans are not over-enthused about military dictatorship.

"The people of West Africa and for that matter Africa are learning everyday that the military rule is not the solution to their problems and they have rejected it and it is out of fashion today," he said.

"When you have a country where the civil society is cowed, they cannot do anything against authorities and we are happy in the belief that the civil society in Guinea is very steadfast and they know what they want and they are demanding it and they will prevail in the end," Musah said.

He said ECOWAS is still pursuing sanctions against Conakry.

"Already you know Guinea is under sanctions. Under ECOWAS protocol we've got what we call graduated sanctions. Now, Guinea is suspended from meetings at the level of heads of state and at the ministerial level. We can go further… and that will be the next step if he decides to go back on his promises," he said.

Musah said the military ruler is being influenced by suspected drug dealers.

"He came pretending to fight against the drug trafficking and others and today we know that some of the drug barons in Guinea are some of his advisors," Musah said.

He said ECOWAS could employ its military might if the crackdown on protesters continues.

"We do not rule out intervention by the ECOWAS standby forces in Guinea," he said.

Musah said the sub-regional body will ensure Guineans enjoy the tenets of democracy despite the coup leader's attempt to participate in the upcoming election.

Captain Moussa Dadis Camara seized power in a coup d'├ętat shortly after long time President Lansana Conte died in December last year.

He initially enjoyed enormous support after the takeover, but his popularity sharply waned after he refused to abide his promise not to participate in the presidential election.


Guinea Launches Investigation Into Killing of Protesters

By Scott Stearns
Dakar
29 September 2009

Guinea's military government says it is launching an investigation into who ordered security forces to open fire on demonstrators Monday, killing at least 157 people. Former colonial power France has cut military assistance following the attack against demonstrators protesting the expected presidential candidacy of the country's military ruler.

Military leaders in Guinea say they will investigate what happened at Conakry's main stadium Monday when government forces opened fire on opposition demonstrators.

An Interior Ministry statement late Thursday put the death toll at just 57, only four of them killed by bullets. The rest, it said, were trampled or died of asphyxiation.

Human rights groups in Guinea say at least 157 people were killed when members of the presidential guard shot into crowds of demonstrators to break-up the unauthorized protest. The final death toll may never be known as soldiers have already collected bodies themselves rather than allow them to be counted at public morgues.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner says Paris is immediately suspending military cooperation with the government in Conakry and is reviewing its entire bilateral aid package.

Kouchner says the European Union will meet Wednesday to look at additional measures that could be taken swiftly, particularly against individual members of the ruling military council.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration condemns what it calls a brazen and inappropriate use of force against civilians. Deputy U.S. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley says Washington is deeply concerned about the general breakdown of security.

"We encourage the Guinean government to exercise restraint and insure the safety and security of all Guineans and foreign nationals," said P.J. Crowley. "We are very concerned about violations of basic human rights and call upon the regime to release all political prisoners. Obviously the reports of deaths, now over 150, [represent] a very, very significant loss of life and are of a great concern to us."

The Economic Community of West African States wants an international inquiry into the violence that includes the African Union and the United Nations Commission for Human Rights.

Instability in Guinea has raised concerns in neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia - both still recovering from their own violent conflicts. Sierra Leone President Ernest Koroma says isolating Guinea at this time of political crisis will only make things worse.

"At this time in the critical developments of Guinea, we should ensure that the international community, ECOWAS, and the Manu River Union stay engaged with Guinea," said Ernest Koroma. "We must ensure that we help Guinea to restore a democratic process."

Facing the most violent repression of political dissent since taking power in a coup nine months ago, military leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara has tried to distance himself from the killing, saying he did not know what was happening.

In a series of interviews since the violence, he has said he wanted to go the stadium himself but was told it was not safe. He says he can not control elements of Guinea's military responsible for what he is calling those atrocities.

It is a dramatic admission for a man who has ruled Guinea largely single-handedly since December. He has previously forced soldiers to crawl on their knees, begging for his forgiveness. Captain Camara has presided over a series of televised interrogations of previous government officials and shouted down the German ambassador for expressing European Union concerns that he might run for president next year.

By distancing himself from violence carried out by members of his own presidential guard, Captain Camara appears willing to give up those responsible for the killing if it restores some of the public confidence he gained early on by vowing to fight corruption.

The Interior Ministry statement says Captain Camara Tuesday expressed his condolences to the families of those killed in the violence and visited some of the injured at two hospitals.

Human Rights Watch says Captain Camara must hold accountable those responsible for opening fire on peaceful demonstrators. Corrine Dufka heads the group's operations in West Africa.

"Dadis Camara has attributed these acts to uncontrolled elements within the military," said Corrine Dufka. "This is completely and utterly unacceptable. This sounded like a well-organized operation."

On taking power, Captain Camara said none of the coup leaders would stand for political office. The ruling miliary council has since declared that everyone is eligible to run in next year's presidential and legislative elections.

While Captain Camara has not formally declared his candidacy, he has told supporters that he will not insult them by ignoring their demands that he run.

Dufka says the likelihood of Captain Camara's candidacy sparked Monday's protests.

"The Guinean people have lived through two long, authoritarian, brutal and corrupt regimes, and they are fed up," she said. "They want elections. They want free and fair elections, in which the process is dominated by civilians and not by the military."

The French government says Captain Camara deciding not to run would allow for calm to return. The U.S. government is calling on Guinea's ruling military council to respect its previous commitment to not field candidates in the election.


Guinea's Military Ruler Tries to Distance Himself from Violence

By Scott Stearns
Dakar
29 September 2009

Guinea's military ruler is trying to distance himself from the violence that killed at least 58 people in the capital on Monday who were protesting his possible candidacy in next year's presidential election.

Military ruler Captain Moussa Dadis Camara told Senegal's RFM radio that he was disgusted when he was told about the violence at Conakry's September 28 Stadium, where witnesses say security services opened fire on opposition protesters.

Captain Camara said he wanted to see for himself what was happening at the stadium because he was unaware of the events.

He told the Senegalese radio station that he would rather die than see people killed because, he said, he did not take power in a military coup last December to have a confrontation with the Guinean people.

The military government on Sunday banned all public demonstrations ahead of Friday's national independence celebrations. But opposition parties, civil society groups and trade unions went ahead with Monday's protest.

Several opposition leaders were arrested and taken to Guinea's main military barracks.

Captain Camara said he has asked about the condition of detained opposition leaders and was told that they are in good health.

Monday's demonstration against Captain Camara's anticipated run for the presidency was the largest public opposition he has faced since the coup. It was also the most violent incident of his nine months in power.

The scale of the killing will be difficult to determine because the military reportedly is collecting bodies themselves rather than allowing them to be counted at public morgues.

Former colonial power France is condemning "the violent repression exercised by the army" during a peaceful demonstration. A statement by the French Foreign Ministry says the ruling military council should "show responsibility" and "listen to the Guinean people's legitimate aspiration to democratically choose their leaders." It says Captain Camara not standing for election "would allow for calm to return."

Captain Camara initially said none of the coup leaders would run for office. But the ruling military council now says all Guineans are entitled to run. While he has not formally announced his candidacy, Captain Camara has told supporters that he will not insult them by ignoring their demands to stand as a candidate in presidential elections scheduled for January.

Guinea is suspended from the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union because of the coup. The African Union says it is concerned about the "deteriorating situation" in Guinea and that it will impose unspecified sanctions on Captain Camara next month, unless he makes clear that he will not run for president.

The Guinean ruler so far has enjoyed the public support of a handful of African heads of state, most notably Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.


Military Supporters in Guinea Reject African Union Sanctions

By Scott Stearns
Dakar
24 September 2009

Supporters of Guinea's ruling military council say sanctions threatened by the African Union are unfair but the AU says it will impose them anyway if the country's military ruler decides to run for president.

The African Union Peace and Security Council is giving Captain Moussa Dadis Camara one month to make his intentions known.

When the 45-year-old took power last December, he said none of the coup leaders would run for president. Now political supporters are urging him to stand as a candidate in January elections. Captain Camara has not formally announced his candidacy, but he has told supporters that he will not insult them by ignoring their demands.

The African Union says it is concerned about the "deteriorating situation" in Guinea and the consequences for not returning to constitutional order. So the alliance has decided to impose unspecified sanctions against Captain Camara in October if he does not make clear that he is not running for president.

The captain's supporters say that is not fair. Pokpa Dopovogui joined demonstrators outside the African Union offices in Conakry.

"We support the patriot Dadis. He is the president and he is going to be the president. We do not want sanctions, but even if there are sanctions, life in Guinea will be better with Captain Camara, so Dadis or death," said Dopovogui.

He also says Guinea does not need the international community because without it Guinea will have a better life. He says the country can develop and move forward without the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States or the United Nations. Dopovogui says the National Revival Party is going to present Captain Camara as its candidate in 2010.

After taking power, Captain Camara said there would be no elections this year. But he eventually agreed with a coalition of political parties, labor unions, civil society groups and religious leaders to hold legislative elections next month and a presidential vote in December.

Those elections have now been postponed and their order reversed with presidential balloting in January and legislative elections in March.

Guinea National Labor Confederation Secretary General Hadja Rabiatou Sera Diallo says AU sanctions reflect what is going on in Guinea.

Diallo says the African Union is playing its role and that it has principles to be followed and respected. She says those principles were in place were before this crisis in Guinea. Just because there is the crisis in Guinea, the African Union is not going to renounce its principles, neither will the United Nations. They will never do it.

That is why, Diallo continues, it is the responsibility of all Guineans to think about these sanctions and for religious leaders to get involved in finding a solution. If there are sanctions, who will be the first victims, she asks. It is the poorest people who are going to suffer and women who will be most affected by sanctions, not the other people. That is why she says everyone in Guinea must think about finding a solution to this crisis since everyone knows what we need.

Diallo says the trade union's appeal is to all Guineans. She does not want to divide the people of Guinea from the military because all civilians have someone in their family who is in the military. Soldiers are Guinean. We are all Guinean, she says, and we all have responsibilities. It is not for the president or for the ruling military council alone to decide.

Guinea's ruling council this month banned all radio and television call-in shows because people were complaining about Captain Camara's expected candidacy. That ban was eventually lifted, following talks with Guinea's radio and television union, which had said the measure violated freedom of expression.

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