Guinea’s wounded coup leader travels to Burkina Faso on surprise visit, official says

By Brahima Ouedraogo, AP
Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Guinea’s wounded leader travels to Burkina Faso

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Guinea’s wounded junta leader is in Burkina Faso to recuperate after last month’s assassination attempt, the foreign affairs ministry there said Wednesday. One of his top opponents said the surprise move could help him avoid prosecution.

Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara’s arrival from Morocco late Tuesday marked the first time he had been seen in public since being shot in the head by his presidential guard chief in December.

But the fact that Camara did not return to his native Guinea raised profound questions about how much influence he still wields — if any — over the junta and the West African nation he has led since seizing power in a December 2008 coup.

Early Wednesday, Camara’s No. 2 — Vice President Gen. Sekouba Konate — announced that he was flying immediately to Burkina Faso to see Camara, according to a statement read on Guinean state radio.

Wearing dark sunglasses, Camara emerged from a small plane that landed on the tarmac of Ouagadougou’s international airport just before midnight. The wounded leader was walking, though he did so with difficulty and was helped by several people who held him up, according to an adviser to Burkina Faso’s president.

Camara did not speak and was escorted to a waiting room at a military air base at the airport, said the official, who witnessed the arrival. He spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to make public statements.

The official did not say how long he would stay and gave no other details. Burkina Faso’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement saying had come “to continue his recovery.”

Mamadou Bah Baadikko, who leads a top opposition party in Guinea, said the U.S. has been stepping up pressure on Morocco to turn over Camara to a European country where he could more easily be jailed if The Hague-based International Criminal Court issues a warrant for his arrest for alleged involvement in a September massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators.

“He left for Burkina because he had become a difficult guest for the Moroccans,” Baadikko told The Associated Press by telephone from Conakry.

“There was an enormous amount of pressure from the Americans, who wanted Camara to be sent to a third country — we are told Spain. So they sent him to Ouagadougou,” Baadikko said. “From what we learned he is not in good health, but he is able to stand.”

Western diplomats have urged against Camara’s return to Guinea, fearing it could further destabilize the country. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has warned that Camara’s return could even spark a civil war.

A Washington-based U.S. official expressed concern about Camara’s movements. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

“Any attempt by him to return to Guinea would be a matter of concern for us,” the official said.

Guinea has been on edge since Sept. 28, when security forces opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators who gathered at a Conakry stadium to protest rumors Camara was going to run in the presidential election that had been set for January despite promises he would not.

A U.N. commission investigating the massacre says 156 people died or disappeared, and more than 100 women were raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence. The commission says there are reasonable grounds to suspect Camara bears “individual criminal responsibility.”

Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore is seen as an ally of Camara, and could offer him safe haven if an attempt is made to prosecute him. During the tense weeks that followed the massacre, Compaore offered to negotiate between the embattled leader and the opposition. Compaore, however, was widely seen as being biased in Camara’s favor and the deal he proposed would have extended Camara’s time as president.

Western diplomats have been pushing the country’s military junta to return power to civilian rule and some have said Camara should not return to Guinea because doing so could destabilize the country.

Earlier this month, Guinea’s No. 2 leader paid a visit to Camara in Morocco to end weeks of rumors that he was either on the verge of returning home or wounded so badly he would never be able to come back. Konate said later that Camara’s life was not in danger and he would recover.

Konate returned home with an apparent breakthrough to end the nation’s crisis: He called on the opposition to select a consensus prime minister to lead a new transition government. No premier has been named, but an official nomination is believed to be imminent.

Camara took power after the death of longtime dictator Lansana Conte, who ruled the impoverished nation of 10 million people for decades. Many had hoped Camara would lift the country from a dark era of harsh rule and poverty. But after a year at the helm, he was under increasing fire by critics for following in Conte’s authoritarian footsteps.

Associated Press Writers Todd Pitman and Rukmini Callimachi in Dakar, Senegal, Matthew Lee in Washington and Boubacar Diallo in Conakry, Guinea contributed to this report.

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