Guinean officials say country’s No. 2 leader going to Senegal for medical treatment

By Boubacar Diallo, AP
Friday, January 8, 2010

No. 2 leader leaving Guinea for medical treatment

CONAKRY, Guinea — Guinea’s future was thrown into further doubt Friday after officials said the West African country’s No. 2 leader was heading to neighboring Senegal for medical treatment only a month after the president left following an assassination attempt.

The announcement comes as some Guineans are questioning whether their president will ever return to the helm of the mineral-rich West African nation. Opposition and union leaders have demanded more details about his condition and have even threatened to go on strike if an information blackout continues.

Two officials told The Associated Press on Friday that the country’s No. 2, Gen. Sekouba Konate, was being taken to Senegal and suffering from cirrhosis of the liver. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

However, Guinea’s health minister disputed the reports in an interview with French television.

“Perhaps (he) had to go to Senegal for consultations with (Senegalese) President (Abdoulaye) Wade, but it’s not a health problem,” Health Minister Abdoulaye Sherif Diaby told France 24.

A presidential spokesman was not answering his phone Friday afternoon.

Guinea has been effectively leaderless as Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara’s health remains a mystery ever since he was airlifted to a Moroccan military hospital following the assassination attempt on Dec. 3. Although Konate had been coordinating the junta’s activities, the government had repeatedly declined to refer to him as the interim president, sowing fears of a power vacuum.

Konate had sought to reassure Guineans that their president is recovering despite the fact that Camara has not been seen in public since the attack, leading many to speculate he is in a coma. The country’s spokesman has been saying Camara will return to Guinea “soon,” but a doctor who saw Camara’s CAT scan said the leader suffered a serious brain injury and is unlikely to return for a long time — if ever.

The announcement of Konate’s apparent illness came as Guinea’s opposition coalition met Friday to discuss naming an opposition prime minister to govern the country in a transition government. On Wednesday, Konate had said that Camara ordered a new civilian-led transition government be put in place in his absence.

Guinea has been ruled by strongmen for decades. Camara seized power in a December 2008 coup, hours after the death of longtime dictator Lansana Conte.

Camara 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 a massive pro-democracy protest in the capital in September. Human rights groups say soldiers killed at least 157 demonstrators and raped dozens of women.

A recent report by U.N. investigators on Guinea said there was sufficient reason to believe that Camara was directly responsible for the mass killings and rapes. Konate — the vice president and minister of defense — was away from Conakry during the slaughter.

The shocking display of brutality prompted the European and the African Unions to impose sanctions on Guinea, including an arms embargo and a travel ban and asset freeze on top members of the junta.

The man who shot Camara, Lt. Abubakar “Toumba” Diakite, remains in hiding. He said last month that he shot the junta leader because Camara wanted him to take the blame for the September massacre.

Konate has cast himself as Camara’s closest ally, but also has been his archrival.

When Camara’s men declared him leader of the 32-member junta in December 2008, the better-known Konate — who then headed an elite unit of specially trained commandos — did not even figure on the list.

A witness at the main barracks said Konate initially challenged Camara over the presidency, which led to Konate, Camara and a third officer agreeing to draw lots from a mayonnaise jar to settle who would get to be president. Camara won but disputed the mayonnaise-jar story, saying soldiers threatened him and Konate with death unless they agreed to lead the country.

Konate was named a vice president, and in the space of a year moved up the military ranks from colonel to general, while his boss remained a captain. Since Camara took power, Konate, who towers over his slight-framed boss, has been a constant presence at Camara’s side.

Associated Press Writer Jenny Barchfield in Paris contributed to this report.

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