Commentary / Africa 17 November 2009 Guinea: The Junta Must Leave Share Facebook Twitter Email Linkedin Whatsapp Save Print Also available in Français Français English The situation in Guinea remains alarming. Despite the negotiations in Ouagadougou and the build up of regional and international pressures, the junta seems like it would rather lead the country into a civil war than give up power. The Ouagadougou negotiations enter a critical phase today; their agenda should be limited to the departure of the junta. A “National Unity Government” that allows the current military regime to stay in power would only increase the risks for the region. To prevent a catastrophe, ECOWAS and the United Nations should start preparing for an eventual military intervention. Since Dadis Camara took power in December 2008, political tensions have constantly increased. They reached the point of no return on 28 September, when security forces executed demonstrators, killing 160 people and injuring 1700. Testimonies about the organization of the killings point towards a premeditated massacre: the military units that carried it out were already in position while officers issued orders at the stadium Since that day, security forces have led a terror campaign, using rape and torture as tools of repression. Popular resentment grew against a junta that showed its determination to stay in power. In response, the junta’s leaders have paralyzed the democratic transition and blocked the creation of a National Transitional Council (Consiel national de transition CNT) an inclusive consultative body meant to over see the transition process. Opposition leaders became the target of harassment and arrests, and political discussions were banned in the national media. Given the situation, the union of opposition parties and civil society leaders, the “Forces Vives”, decided to suspend its dialogue with the junta. Prior to that, the African Union had announced its intention to declare sanctions against the junta if Dadis Camara did not confirm that neither he nor any member of the CNDD (Conseil national pour la démocratie et le développemen) would run for the January 2010 presidential election. On 17 October, ECOWAS imposed an arms embargo on the military junta. Ten days later, the European Union and the United Nations declared targeted sanctions against some members of the junta. Following the killings, the international community demanded the creation of an independent commission of investigation. ECOWAS has named president Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso to mediate the crisis. Notwithstanding the international pressure, Dadis Camara’s behavior remains unequivocal. The military junta has denied any responsibility in the massacre and has refused to release those who were arrested during the September demonstration. Dadis remains the Head of State despite calls for him to step down and the public administration has been militarized. All but three of 33 prefects have been replaced by military officers since 2008. Pro-junta support groups and youth organizations have been created throughout the country. The situation is particularly worrying in Guinea Forestière, where Camara’s supporters play on the resentment of local communities against Malinkés, Fulanis or Sousou, three ethnic groups that are seen as beneficiaries of previous regimes. Now idle, former militias are ready to take up arms to fight again, adding to the general tension. In 2001, when Charles Taylor’s army attacked Guinea Forestière, Lansana Conté had recruited, trained and armed around 6000 young men from the Macenta region. After fighting for their country, many of them joined the anti-Taylor combatants in Libéria. Only few of them have been disarmed and reintegrated into their community. These trained combatants have difficulty adjusting to civilian life and have become a major source of trouble in the region. The recruitment of militias trained outside Conakry may be the result of ethnic or personal divisions, or the accumulation of power by individuals. They are of great concern since any violent breakdown within the military could mean civil war for Guinea or an increase in massacres against groups perceived as opponents to the junta. Moreover, a conflict in Guinea could destabilize the entire region. Cross-border movements of combatants and refugees along the Liberian, Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leonean frontiers could reanimate the conflict in these still vulnerable countries. ECOWAS’ leaders and Burkina Faso’s President, Blaise Compaoré, must not be deluded. The negotiations with the junta will be difficult, even more so because for most Guineans the only acceptable outcome is the replacement of the junta by a transitional civilian administration. They will accept no other high-ranking military official other than the Defense Minister, responsible for re-establishing order in the barracks and disarming the militias. The transitional administration should lead the electoral process, which can only be credible if it is free of any military control. Dadis Camara and all officials that have taken control of the civil administration and functions of the state must leave. Only then will Guinea’s democratic transition resume. The Forces Vives also have a role in the transition. Their internal conflict over leadership must stop: their concern should be the interest of all Guineans rather than personal ambitions. Members of the transitional administration in charge of organizing the elections should not be allowed to run for presidency. Nor should they be allowed to place one of their allies in the State apparatus in order to finance and support their campaign. The price for the junta’s departure could be high. Dadis and his followers might demand a golden exile, and impunity for the crimes that were committed on 28 September. However, it is still too early to address this issue: the conclusion of the international commission of investigation must be known first. It is essential that the commission establishes the responsibility of high ranking state officials, including Dadis Camara, and draws the necessary judicial conclusions. Moreover, the sub-region should send a military mission to Conakry without further delay. This would give the junta a clear sign that a repetition of Sierra Leone and Liberia’s civil wars will not be accepted in Guinea. The mission should start an open but firm dialogue on the dismantling of militias and the recruitment of Liberian combatants. It should be conducted in agreement with the mediation of Burkina Faso’s President. A high ranking official of the Nigerian army would likely be best suited to lead it. The creation of a reduced protection force should be discussed and planned with the Guinean army: a force equipped with air power would be enough to protect the members of Forces Vives and the international commission. In the long term, the region will have to assure the security of the civilians and the organization of the elections. However, the international community should be prepared for the worst. A regional military mission should be planned. The mission’s aim should be to confront militias and protect civilians. Western countries should be ready to provide rapid air transportation and other resources needed to prevent an escalation of violence in Conakry or in the country’s other major cities. This plan is not only a necessary measure to prevent the outbreak of a conflict, it also signals to the junta that its departure from power is non-negotiable. During the last months, ECOWAS and the African Union have reacted to the deterioration in Guinea with impressive resolution. Dadis Camara and the officers behind him are counting on the negotiations stalling: they hope that this will allow them to stay in power and buy time until the storm of international condemnation is behind them. Recently, the military have returned to power through fraudulent elections or military coups throughout the African continent. Guinea must be the starting point to halt this trend once and for all. The status quo can only lead to chaos. There is still time to avoid it. 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