OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Guinea’s wounded leader has turned up in Burkina Faso after being ejected by Moroccan authorities, putting him within driving distance Wednesday of the nation he terrorized for nearly a year.
The surprise move comes just as the West African country appeared to be making tentative steps toward a return to civilian rule. Many feared Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara could return to Guinea or destabilize it from exile.
Camara arrived at the Ouagadougou airport late Tuesday and stepped off the plane, helped by several people who appeared to be propping him up, according to an adviser to Burkina Faso’s president who was at the airport. It marked the 45-year-old’s first public sighting since being shot in the head by his former aide-de-camp a little over a month ago.
Camara had been rushed on Dec. 4 to a Moroccan hospital for emergency surgery and his health had become a tightly guarded secret, with many speculating that he was in a coma even as the government insisted that he was recovering and was due back soon.
“Of course we are concerned,” said Mamadou Bah Baadikko, the president of an opposition party in Guinea. “His presence in the region is a danger for our country … If he were to return to Guinea, it would dangerously compromise a situation that is extremely fragile.”
Camara is the leader of the military junta that seized power of Guinea in December 2008 following the death of the country’s former strongman, Lansana Conte. Camara had promised to hand over power to civilians in under one year and he was initially seen as an eccentric but well-intentioned military leader, given to three-hour-long televised tirades against corruption.
But public opinion shifted when Camara began hinting that he did not intend to step down. The definitive turning point came on Sept. 28, when soldiers opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators crowded inside the national soccer stadium to attend a rally demanding he step down.
A U.N. commission investigating the massacre says 156 people died or disappeared. At least 109 women were raped by soldiers loyal to Camara, many dragged onto the stadium grass where they were violently assaulted including with pieces of wood, rifle barrels — even bayonets. The commission says there are reasonable grounds to suspect Camara bears “individual criminal responsibility.”
“We are not against Dadis, the person,” said top union leader Rabiatou Serah Diallo. “But his return to Guinea would light the spark. It will mark the beginning of a war between those in the army that support him and the people of Guinea,” she said.
Several opposition leaders say that Morocco had been under heavy pressure by the U.S. to transfer Camara to Europe, where he could more easily be jailed if The Hague-based International Criminal Court issues a warrant for his arrest for alleged involvement in the September massacre.
“Dadis had become a difficult guest for the Moroccans. They were in a bind. If they sent him to Spain, they would have been seen as being biased against Dadis. But they couldn’t send him to Guinea, since that would have enraged the Americans,” says Oury Bah, the No. 2 of another political party in Guinea.
Western diplomats have urged against Camara’s return to Guinea, fearing it would sabotage attempts to return the country to civilian rule. “Any attempt by him to return to Guinea would be a matter of concern for us,” said a Washington-based U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Compaore, is seen as an ally of Camara. Compaore had offered to act as mediator between the junta and the opposition following the stadium massacre, but he was widely seen as being biased in favor of the military. The country’s opposition has since asked that he be removed as mediator.
Camara’s arrival comes as the No. 2 of the junta appeared increasingly intent on calling for a return to civilian rule. Gen. Sekouba Konate had recently announced that he planned to allow the opposition to name an interim prime minister who would help him oversee a transitional period ahead of elections.
Konate has been acting as the country’s interim ruler since Camara was shot, and opposition members say that they are encouraged by the fact that he has reached out to them to discuss a roadmap for ending military rule.
Konate was accompanied by a delegation of junta officials who left Conakry in a private plane late Wednesday for Ouagadougou, where they were to meet with Camara. They were met upon arrival by Burkina Faso’s foreign minister.
“We are on our way to see the president. We need to wait to see him,” said Minister of Communication Idrissa Cherif, who spoke to the AP by telephone from Conakry as he was getting ready to board the plane alongside Konate. “What is clear is that if he’s left the hospital (in Morocco), it’s because there’s been an improvement in his condition,” he said.
Asked if that means that Camara could soon be returning, Cherif demurred, saying: “He still needs to rest.”
Callimachi reported from Dakar, Senegal. Matthew Lee in Washington and Boubacar Diallo in Conakry, Guinea contributed to this report.