Guinea’s leader flown to Morocco for medical treatment following assassination attempt

By Rukmini Callimachi, AP
Friday, December 4, 2009

Guinea’s wounded president flown to Morocco

CONAKRY, Guinea — The wounded president of Guinea was airlifted to a hospital in Morocco on Friday, opening a dangerous power vacuum in this mineral-rich country one year after he took over in a military coup.

The shooting of Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara, reportedly by his second-in-command, has laid bare deep divisions within the junta. The assassination attempt followed an argument between Camara and Abubakar “Toumba” Diakite, head of the presidential guard, over who would take the fall for a massacre of unarmed protesters in September, two government officials and a retired diplomat said.

The government officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak and the retired diplomat feared reprisal.

U.N. officials were in Guinea this week investigating the massacre.

Camara was flown to the Mohammad V Military Hospital in Rabat, where a medical official described his condition as not serious, noting he appeared only slightly wounded. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not have permission.

The information supports statements by presidential spokesman Idrissa Cherif, who told The Associated Press that the Guinean leader was walking and talking. “He is doing well,” he said.

Blaise Compaore, the president of neighboring Burkina Faso who sent his private plane to transport Camara to Morocco, said on state radio that his condition “is difficult but not desperate,” citing a doctor.

The trip marked the first time the 45-year-old has left Guinea since seizing control last December. He has canceled multiple other trips abroad, often at the last minute, because of fears of countercoups.

As night fell on Friday, Toumba and about a dozen of his men remained at large. Cherif said a nationwide manhunt was under way. The owner of a building overlooking Camp Koundara, the base of the presidential guard, said one of his tenants saw a speed boat loaded with gun-toting soldiers speed off over the Atlantic Ocean.

The capital’s main port was thick with soldiers carrying submachine guns. Cherif said the military junta, which calls itself the National Council for Democracy and Development, or CNDD, is in control of the country. He declined to say who in the CNDD was heading the government.

Guinea, whose soil is rich in gold, diamonds and half the world’s reserves of the raw material used to make aluminum, has been under military rule for the past 25 years.

Initially the coup leaders promised elections within 60 days, but Camara later said the 32-member junta would hold power for about two years.

The bold, daylight shooting Thursday underscores how fractious the army has become since little-known Camara took charge following the death of longtime dictator Lansana Conte. Analysts said the army has split between several top commanders — including Toumba — all of whom control battalions.

Toumba had been at Camara’s side almost constantly since the coup last year. In recent months, as far more senior officers were frozen out, he was routinely seen going in and out of Camara’s private office without even knocking.

But government officials and the retired diplomat said the relationship began to sour three months ago after the presidential guard opened fire on unarmed civilians who had gathered in the national soccer stadium to demand that the military step down. At least 157 people were killed and dozens of women were gang raped by soldiers on the stadium grass, according to human rights groups.

The massacre led the European Union and the African Union to impose sanctions on Guinea, including a travel ban on top members of the junta.

The tension between the two men escalated this week as a U.N. commission began interviewing witnesses in an effort to assign culpability for the Sept. 28 killings, the officials say.

“The relationship between them became venomous after Dadis asked Toumba to go before the commission,” said Information Minister Cheick Fantamady Conde, whose office overlooks the camp where the presidential guard is garrisoned. “But it’s not yesterday that the seeds for this incident were sown. … Everyone saw Toumba at the stadium.”

It’s unclear what prompted Camara to leave his office in the main military barracks in Conakry and drive downtown to confront Toumba. But soon after Camara and his bodyguards arrived, an altercation ensued, said Conde, who heard the volley of gunfire from his office. A retired diplomat who is close to the junta said that officers present during the confrontation heard Toumba shout out: “I won’t take the fall for you.”

Opposition leaders who suffered injuries in the stadium at the hand of Toumba’s men say the power vacuum is dangerous, but also offers Guinea a sliver of hope.

“It could be the beginning of a solution,” said Oury Bah, the second-ranking leader of the Union for the Democratic Forces of Guinea, a leading opposition party. “If the army doesn’t split apart and begin fighting amongst itself, this could be a chance for Guinea to negotiate a return to civilian rule.”

Associated Press writer Brahima Ouedraogo in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and Solana Pyne in Rabat, Morocco, contributed to this report.

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