Guinea’s junta leader says he’s agreed not to return to his country; recovers in Burkina Faso

By Rukmini Callimachi, AP
Friday, January 15, 2010

Guinea’s junta leader agrees not to return home

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Guinea’s wounded military leader gave into intense pressure Friday to stay in temporary exile in Burkina Faso, a move that will immediately ease fears of renewed conflict and clears the way for a transition to democracy.

Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara’s decision, following three days of feverish, late night negotiations, is seen as a critical step for his country, which diplomats say could have slid into civil war had he returned.

In a declaration, Camara, his No. 2 and the president of Burkina Faso announced that the 46-year-old coup leader is “willingly taking a period of convalescence” in light of his health after being shot in the head. The declaration also said Camara would allow his second-in-command to oversee a six-month transition to civilian rule.

Friday’s signing ceremony of the new accord marked Camara’s first appearance before reporters since an assassination attempt in December. Instead of military fatigues, the former strongman was wearing civilian clothes, perhaps indicating his departure from military life. He was visibly diminished — his body gaunt and fragile — and the right side of his head was crisscrossed by the scar of the bullet shot by his former aide-de-camp in an assassination attempt six weeks ago.

The future of his nation of 10 million had hung in the balance as he was airlifted to Morocco on Dec. 4 and his No. 2 Gen. Sekouba Konate grabbed control. The two military men had come to power together in a 2008 coup, but differed radically in their vision.

Although Camara had promised to hold elections within one year of taking power in which neither he nor any member of the ruling junta would be allowed to run, he soon began to hint that he planned to be a candidate. In September, his presidential guard opened fire on thousands of protesters who had gathered in the national soccer stadium to demand that he step down, killing at least 156 people.

At least 109 women were raped by soldiers chanting pro-Dadis slogans, according to a U.N. investigation that concluded that Camara was likely complicit in the massacre and could face charges of crimes against humanity.

When Camara was airlifted to Morocco, Konate grabbed back control of the country and within hours sent an emissary to meet with the country’s opposition in order to begin hashing out a plan for holding elections. That angered Camara’s hardcore supporters in the junta, who chartered a private plane Thursday and sent a delegation to Ouagadougou to pressure Konate to allow their leader to return.

Meanwhile in Conakry, the Guinean capital, supporters congregated at the international airport, threatening to not allow the delegate’s plane to land if it did not return with their leader.

Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore, who had helped mediate between the military clique’s factions, said Camara agreed to allow his No. 2 to steer the country toward a return to civilian rule after realizing his health would not allow him to lead.

“Today we sensed on his part a great willingness in regards to Guinea’s progress (toward democracy),” said Compaore. “But we also think that a period of convalescence would be useful. That is why he has put his trust in his friend Sekouba Konate to lead the transition.”

The protocol signed by Compaore, Konate and Camara says the transition period will be no longer than six months, indicating that Guinea will hold multiparty elections in June. It says that no member of the junta, nor anyone in active military service, will be allowed to run. The transition will be led by a religious personality, it said, as well as by a prime minister to be appointed by the country’s opposition.

Earlier Friday in Conakry, opposition officials named their candidate, choosing opposition veteran Jean-Marie Dore, who was brutally beaten at the stadium by pro-Dadis soldiers and who keeps at his house a bag full of the bloody clothes he was wearing that day.

The presidential guard that carried out the killings is largely composed of men from the small ‘forestier’ ethnic group, the ethnicity of Camara. Their victims were overwhelmingly Peul, the largest ethnic group in Guinea, and a major group in neighboring countries including Burkina Faso.

“Dadis has been heavily implicated in the September violence in which more than 150 people were gunned down,” said Guinea expert Corinne Dufka, a senior researcher for U.S.-based Human Rights Watch. “Konate has taken meaningful steps to ensure that Guineans will have the chance to choose their leaders without fear. If Dadis returns this process will be in danger and may lead to further bloodshed.”

International observers, especially the U.S. and France, had expressed deep concern that if Camara had been allowed to return he would likely have propelled the country toward civil war, pitting soldiers from his ethnicity against the Peul.

While Dore is respected by many, he is from the forestier ethnic group and his appointment is likely to anger those opposition members who had argued the candidate should be Peul in order to show a clear break with the past.

The Ouagadougou accord is seen as a breakthrough for Guinea, but one major unknown is whether the military clique of forestier officers that had benefited handsomely from Camara’s status will accept the agreement in the long term.

“Our wish is for him to come with us. It’s not our wish to leave without him because his people want to see him,” said Col. Moussa Keita, who had led the delegation of junta officials to Burkina Faso vowing to return with the injured leader.

Camara’s health had remained a matter of intense speculation ever since he was evacuated to a military hospital in Morocco, where according to some accounts no one except his doctors had access to his hospital room. On Tuesday, the Moroccans unexpectedly flew him to Burkina Faso as unconfirmed reports indicated that Camara had become increasingly belligerent, demanding to be allowed to return to Guinea.

He walked off the plane at the Ouagadougou airport propped up by several people. Three days later as he walked toward the table to sign Friday’s declaration, he seemed unsteady, slowly placing each foot in front of the other.

When he got back up, reporters noticed that he grabbed his right arm with his left hand, as if the arm couldn’t hold itself up.

Callimachi reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press Writer Boubacar Diallo in Conakry, Guinea contributed to this report.

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