Junta leader may trigger war

2009-12-20 11:30

Washington - Fears are growing in Washington that Guinea's wounded junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara could return to Conakry and possibly trigger a civil war that could reignite west African conflicts.

Camara, reported recovering in Morocco after his aide de camp tried to kill him on December 3, could return to Guinea and launch reprisals that could split the army into warring factions, former US diplomat John Campbell told AFP.

In such a scenario, Camara might fall back on his ethnic militias who have ties to groups in Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to Campbell who is now an Africa analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

Guinea's neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone were engulfed in civil wars in the 1990s.

"If he (Camara) could go off to a nice villa in the south of France, it would be better for all of us," said Campbell.

One US administration official told AFP on the condition of anonymity that Washington is "very much against him returning to Guinea" after hearing that Camara may be fit enough to leave Morocco in January.

The same official also suspects Camara last month received $100m from China that he has used to pay for weapons and for South African and Israeli instructors who are reportedly training his militias.

'We're very concerned about these ethnic militias and the potential'

The official alleged the payment amounts to a "security deposit" from China as it seeks a stake in Guinea's bauxite, gold, iron ore and aluminum mines.

William Fitzgerald, the deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, echoed fears about the risks of civil war, although he did not say he opposed Camara's return and did not refer to China's alleged financial role.

"We're very concerned about these ethnic militias and the potential, if Dadis were to return, of a civil war that would spill over the borders and reinfect Sierre Leone and Liberia," Fitzgerald said.

"Dadis's return would complicate many of the steps that we're trying to take to return to constitutional rule," Fitzgerald said.

The United States, along with international and African regional groupings, has been urging the junta to step down and make way for a transitional body since the army massacred dozens of opposition protesters on September 28.

And in Camara's absence, Fitzgerald said, Washington has begun "reaching out" to the interim leader, General Sekouba Konate, in a bid to encourage Guinea's return to civilian rule, including having free and fair elections.

The US ambassador in Conakry, Patricia Moller, has been meeting with Konate to discuss the best way forward, according to Fitzgerald who says Konate appears to be "an ideal transition leader" as he demonstrates no political ambitions.

Commission of inquiry

Fitzgerald said the United States is also "impressed" with how Konate has tried to instill discipline in the military since Lieutenant Aboubakar Sidiki Diakite, who is now in hiding, shot Camara in the head on December 3.

Diakite has been accused by some witnesses of being one of the leaders of the September massacre.

Fitzgerald suspects that Konate believes the massacre was also a "blemish" on the army's reputation.

But Fitzgerald said Konate, with whom he spoke briefly during a meeting with Camara in Guinea in early October, has tended to defer to Camara since the military coup that brought the junta to power a year ago.

Besides backing a return to civilian rule, he said, "the United States supports the establishment of a political military observer force" in Guinea from the regional Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).

But Fitzgerald conceded there is no sign Konate will agree.

Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, the mediator in the Guinea crisis, should press the junta on civilian rule and an observer force as soon as possible, Fitzgerald said.

The United States, he said, is also "eagerly awaiting" the findings of a commission of inquiry into the September massacre formed by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

The commission has handed its report to Ban, who is studying it and is planning to forward it to the junta, Ecowas and the UN Security Council, according to UN officials in New York.