A step closer to Guinea, wounded leader seen as danger to return to civilian rule

By Rukmini Callimachi, AP
Wednesday, January 13, 2010

After move closer to Guinea, leader seen as danger

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — The rogue leader of Guinea turned up overnight in Burkina Faso after Moroccan authorities ejected him, putting the injured army captain within driving distance of the nation he terrorized for nearly a year.

The surprise move comes just as the country appeared to be making tentative steps toward a return to civilian rule, and many fear the military leader may try to return or destabilize the nation from exile.

Concerned diplomats huddled to try to make sense of the development, several saying they had had no forewarning of Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara return to the region.

Camara arrived at the Ouagadougou airport at nearly midnight Wednesday 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.

He 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,” says 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. He 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 he began hinting that he did not intend to step down. The definitive turning point came on Sept. 28 when hundreds of thousands of people crowded inside the national soccer stadium to attend an opposition-led rally demanding he step down.

According to U.N. investigators, Camara was likely complicit in the army-led massacre of the demonstrators, who were sprayed at point-blank range with automatic weapons. 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.

“We are not against Dadis, the person,” said top union leader Rabiatou Sera 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.

Different theories emerged Wednesday on why he had been transferred to Burkina Faso and what his presence there could mean for Guinea.

Several opposition leaders said that Morocco had been under heavy pressure by the U.S. to transfer Camara to Europe — possibly Spain — from where he could more easily be arrested if he were indicted by the international criminal court for his alleged role in the stadium 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 and 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 in 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. Ever since Camara’s wounding, Konate has been acting as the country’s interim ruler and the opposition say that they are encouraged by the fact that he has reached out to them to discuss a roadmap for ending military rule.

On Tuesday, Konate had made a visit to the Alpha Yaya Diallo military barracks in the Guinean capital from where Camara had run his military government and reportedly told the troops that there is no option but to move toward democracy, according to the retired diplomat and several opposition members who were briefed on his speech.

Konate accompanied by a delegation of junta officials left Conakry in a private plane late Wednesday for Ouagadougou where they were to meet with Camara. It was unclear if Konate was going there to assess the junta leader’s health.

“We are on our way to see the president. We need to wait to see him,” said Minister of Communication Idrissa Cherif who spoke 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.”

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