Guinea massacre victims remembered
Conakry - The families of the 157 people killed in a massacre in Guinea last September were barred Tuesday from entering or approaching the soccer stadium where the killings occurred on the one-year anniversary of the slaughter.
Military trucks teeming with armed soldiers were positioned at the entrance to the sports arena where protesters had gathered to call for an end to army rule last September 28. The army had attempted to halt the protest and when they were not able to, they sealed off the exits to the arena and then opened fire mowing down civilians who fell backward in waves.
Women that survived the barrage of bullets were dragged to the stadium turf and gang raped.
One year later, Guinea is in many ways a changed country: The head of the junta accused of ordering the massacre was forced into exile and his No 2 agreed to hand over power to civilians. The first round of the presidential election was held in June, but since then the government has repeatedly postponed the date of the run-off needed to choose the country's new leader.
The anniversary of the killings comes amid worries that the election could be canceled and that Guinea would again revert to a military dictatorship.
The leaders of an association representing the families of those killed in the September massacre say authorities asked them to refrain from marching or going to the stadium because a large gathering could act as a flashpoint for violence. The capital, Conakry, has been tense following the latest election postponement earlier this month.
In a statement read on Tuesday on state TV, the Minister of Religious Affairs Mustapha Koutoubou Sanoh asked the families of the victims to mark the date by praying for their loved ones at the nearest mosque or church. Implicit in his instructions was the fact that families would not be allowed to march to the stadium, or enter it to place flowers as they had planned.
Early on Tuesday, residents of the sea-facing capital woke up to find military trucks stationed at the gates of the stadium as well as at key intersections throughout the city.
"Me, I lost my father at the stadium. To this day we have no news of him," said Bayo Abdourahmane whose family planned to gather at the Faycal Mosque in downtown Conakry to pray.
Rights groups counted at least 157 people known to have been at the stadium when the military opened fire. Only a few dozen families were able to retrieve their dead. The majority of the bodies are believed to be buried in mass graves, according to an investigation by Human Rights Watch.
Within the last 12 months, Guinea has made enormous strides forward. The capital is visibly changed from last year when military convoys sped through town, forcing taxis and cars onto the shoulder and soldiers stole the SUVs of citizens at gunpoint. The military is now far less visible, signaling that the transition to civilian rule is underway.
New climate of detente
But while the country is taking baby steps toward democracy, the perpetrators of the massacre are still free. One military commander Moussa Tiegboro Camara who was seen by numerous witnesses at the stadium during the killings - was relieved of his post as minister in the junta's regime. He is still, however, the director of a government office tasked with fighting drug trafficking and serious crime.
"My child who was 33 years old was killed at the stadium. His name was Mohamed Aliou Conte and he was a teacher. It's a loss I will never be able to replace," said Asmaou Diallo, the president of an association representing victims of the September 28 massacre. "The people that carried out this tragedy are here, they live among us. It upsets us. It's taken impunity to a new height."
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that bringing the perpetrators to justice needs to be a priority in order to break the cycle of impunity that has plagued Guinea, a country of 10 million on Africa's western coast that has known only dictatorship.
Even in the new climate of detente, the massacre is a touchy subject because the perpetrators are all soldiers and the stability of the country depends on the ability to tame the military and prevent it from grabbing power in another coup.
Jean-Marie Dore, the current interim prime minister, was one of the opposition leaders that was brutally beaten at the stadium. Since assuming his post, he has made no public comments on the massacre and many families of victims feel betrayed.
"Jean-Marie Dore has forgotten that he too was at the stadium and that he too was injured there. He has forgotten the hundreds of dead and wounded, and the women that were raped," said Mamadou Bobo Diallo, a parent of another victim. "Today he gave the order for the army to block the roads in Conakry."