Guinea’s military junta says leader must return

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CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — Guinea’s military junta says its wounded leader must be allowed to return home from a nearby country where he is being held under armed guard.

But the statement read on state-run radio on Thursday about Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara directly contradicted the junta’s No. 2 Gen. Sekouba Konate, who has assured the international community that Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara would not be allowed back into the country.

Konate grabbed control of the country last month after an assassination attempt on the 45-year-old Camara, who was evacuated to Morocco for surgery. In Camara’s absence, Konate began taking steps to return Guinea to civilian rule and many fear the efforts would be derailed if the military strongman is allowed back in.

U.S. and French officials have been in constant contact with Konate. He assured them that he intended to move swiftly toward elections and that he would prohibit Camara from returning to Guinea, according to a copy of a U.S. State Department report dated Jan. 5 which was shown to The Associated Press on Thursday.

Camara is accused of crimes against humanity for his alleged complicity in a massacre of civilians and may be indicted by the international criminal court, but as of now there is no legal ground for detaining him. In a surprise move, Morocco flew the wounded Camara to Burkina Faso on Tuesday, where Konate flew to meet him.

The two have been meeting behind closed doors in sessions mediated by Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore. Late on Thursday, a nine-member delegation of junta officials arrived in Ouagadougou to demand the return of their president.

“The collective members of (the junta) and the chiefs of staff of the armies of air, sea and land stand in solidarity behind Gen. Sekouba Konate’s call for a rapid transition,” said the statement read on state radio. “But we encourage and ask for the quick return of Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara to Conakry. We are recommending that Gen. Sekouba Konate bring him back (in his plane),” it said.

Upon arriving in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, the permanent secretary of the junta, Col. Moussa Keita, told reporters the delegation would not leave without their leader.

“We have been sent by the sovereign and independent people of Guinea,” Keita said. “We have come to bring back our president.”

Camara came to power a little over a year ago in an army-led coup hours after Dec. 23, 2008 death of former strongman Lansana Conte. He promised to hold elections within one year and wowed the desperately poor nation of 10 million by holding televised interrogations of corrupt officials accused of embezzling state funds during the previous regime.

But public opinion shifted when he began hinting that he did not intend to step down. In September, the presidential guard opened fire on thousands of protesters that had gathered in the national soccer stadium to demand that Camara step down, killing at least 156. Over 100 women were gang raped by soldiers chanting pro-Dadis slogans, who dragged them down the stadium steps and made them swear allegiance to the coup leader as they sexually assaulted them with rifle barrels and pieces of wood.

The massacre sent shockwaves through the country as well as through the military. Officers that were not involved in the massacre felt compromised, including Konate, who was not in Conakry at the time.

Both the European Union and the African Union issued sanctions, including a travel ban on members of the junta — and at least one junta official was deported when she tried to travel to another African country.

Camara was shot in the head on Dec. 3 by the head of his presidential guard following an argument over which of the two of them would take the blame for the massacre. Burkina Faso’s president Compaore sent his private jet to evacuate Camara to Morocco.

Camara is widely hated in Guinea, but he retains fierce support among members of his ethnic group, one of the smallest in the country whose members were catapulted to positions of influence after he took power. Hundreds gathered outside the international airport Thursday threatening to block the runway and to prevent any plane from landing unless it is carrying their president.

“Dadis will come home in coming days,” said Mark Koivogui, a supporter who like Camara is from the minority ‘forestier’ ethnic group. “We have made 10,000 T-shirts on which we wrote, ‘Dadis, the Miraculous.’ Just wait and see. He’ll be back before you know it,” he said.


Associated Press Writer Rukmini Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal and Brahima Ouedraogo from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.