No. 2 of Guinea’s junta heads to Burkina Faso to see wounded leader

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Guinea’s No. 2 heads to Burkina Faso to see leader

CONAKRY, Guinea — The Guinean military confirmed in an official statement that the military junta’s No. 2 is heading to Burkina Faso early Wednesday to see the country’s wounded leader.

The statement read in an early morning broadcast on a local radio station said that the junta’s vice president Gen. Sekouba Konate would leave Conakry at 10 a.m. local time for Ouagadougou, the capital of neighboring Burkina Faso.

Konate is rushing to see Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara who had until Tuesday been receiving care at a Moroccan hospital for a bullet wound to his head following an assassination attempt. In a surprising move, he was airlifted to Burkina Faso late Tuesday and a source close to the junta says he believes the Moroccans had become uneasy about hosting Camara.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Guinea’s wounded junta leader was flown from Morocco to Burkina Faso late Tuesday, a surprise move one of his top political opponents said could help the recovering strongman avoid detention if an international warrant is issued for his arrest.

The trip marked the first time Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara has been seen in public since he was airlifted to a military hospital in Morocco on Dec. 3, hours after his presidential guard chief shot him in the head in a failed assassination attempt.

But the fact that Camara did not return to his native Guinea raises profound questions about how much influence he still wields — if any — over the junta and nation he’s led since seizing power in a December 2008 coup.

Wearing dark sunglasses, Camara emerged from a small plane that landed on the tarmac of Ouagadougou’s international airport just before midnight Tuesday. The wounded leader was walking, though he did so with difficulty and was helped by several people who held him up, according to an adviser to Burkina Faso’s president.

Camara did not speak and was escorted to a waiting room at a military air base at the airport, said the official, who witnessed the arrival. He spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to make public statements.

The official said Camara traveled to Burkina Faso “to finish his medical treatment,” but he did not say how long he would stay and gave no other details.

Mamadou Bah Baadikko, who leads a top opposition party in Guinea, said the U.S. had been stepping up pressure on Morocco to turn over Camara to a European country where he could more easily be jailed if The Hague-based International Criminal Court issues a warrant for his arrest.

“He left for Burkina because he had become a difficult guest for the Moroccans,” Baadikko told The Associated Press by telephone from Conakry.

“There was an enormous amount of pressure from the Americans, who wanted Camara to be sent to a third country — we are told Spain. So they sent him to Ouagadougou,” Baadikko said. “From what we learned he is not in good health, but he is able to stand.”

Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore is seen as an ally of Camara, one that could offer him safe haven.

During the tense weeks following a Sept. 28 massacre by the military of pro-democracy demonstrators which sparked a nationwide uproar, Compaore offered to negotiate between the embattled leader and the opposition. Compaore, however, was widely seen as being biased in Camara’s favor and the deal he proposed would have extended Camara’s time as president.

A retired African diplomat who is close to the junta said authorities in Burkina Faso had no forewarning from Moroccan authorities of Camara’s impending trip. Moroccan officials were not immediately available to comment.

In Guinea’s capital, Conakry, junta spokesman Idrissa Cherif said he was not aware of Camara’s transfer.

Western diplomats have been pushing the country’s military junta to return power to civilian rule and some have said Camara should not return to Guinea because doing so could destabilize the country.

Earlier this month, Camara’s No. 2 — Vice President Gen. Sekouba Konate — paid a visit to Camara in Morocco to end weeks of rumors that Camara was either on the verge of returning home or injured so badly he would never be able to. Konate said later that the injured leader’s life was not in danger and he would recover.

Konate returned home with an apparent breakthrough to end the nation’s crisis: he called on the opposition to select a consensus prime minister to lead a new transition government.

No premier has been named, but an official nomination is believed to be imminent.

Camara took power after the death of longtime dictator Lansana Conte, who ruled the impoverished nation of 10 million people for decades. Many had hoped he would lift the country from a dark era of harsh rule and poverty, but after a year at the helm, he was under increasing fire by critics for following in Conte’s authoritarian footsteps.

A turning point came in September, when security forces opened fire on hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators who gathered at a Conakry stadium to protest against rumors Camara was going to run for presidential elections that had been due January despite promises he would not.

A U.N. commission investing protests says 156 people died or disappeared during the shooting. The commission says there are reasonable grounds to suspect Camara bears “individual criminal responsibility” for what it called a “widespread and systematic attack” on civilians.

The commission placed similar blame on the army officer who shot Camara in December, Lt. Abubakar “Toumba” Diakite.

Diakite, who is in hiding, has said he opened fire on the junta leader because Camara wanted him to take the blame for the September killings.

The U.N. commission said that during the stadium massacre and the days that followed, at least 109 women were raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence including sexual mutilation and sexual slavery, and hundreds were tortured or subjected to other cruel and inhuman treatment.

Associated Press Writers Todd Pitman and Rukmini Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.

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