Camara seen as danger

2010-01-14 08:54

Ougadougou - Burkina Faso's president held emergency talks late on Wednesday with Guinea's wounded junta chief, who opposition leaders say remains a threat to their country even in exile.

Morocco unexpectedly removed Captain Moussa "Dadis" Camara from a military hospital in Rabat a day earlier and flew him to Burkina Faso, washing their hands of the strongman but leaving his fate unclear and putting him within driving distance of the nation he terrorised for nearly a year.

The surprise move came as the west African country had been making tentative steps toward a return to civilian rule, which many fear could be derailed if Camara returns.

Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore met the injured coup chief in closed door talks for three hours at the presidential palace in the capital, Ouagadougou. Also present was Guinea's interim leader, Vice President and Defense Minister Gen Sekouba Konate, who arrived earlier.

None of the trio made any public statements afterward. Both Camara and Konate stayed in Ouagadougou overnight in separate locations.

Junta spokesperson Idrissa Cherif declined to elaborate on what was discussed, saying only: "the issue is very sensitive and we need to be prudent talking about it now."

A matter of concern

Asked if Camara would return to Conakry, Cherif said only: "He has a lot of supporters in Guinea, so if he's not going back, there needs to be an explanation for why not" - or there could be violence.

The fact the junta did not immediately dispatch a plane to retrieve Camara and kept him in Ouagadougou overnight raises questions not only about whether he will return, but about how much power he still wields within the junta - if any.

Konate is under intense pressure from opposition leaders and the international community to keep Camara out of the country.

Last week, Konate - who has run Guinea since Camara was shot by his presidential guard chief on December 3 - invited the opposition to name an interim prime minister to oversee a transitional period and eventually restore civilian rule through elections. It's unclear, however, if Camara backs that plan.

Complicating the talks: Guinea's political opposition believes Compaore is biased in favor of the junta, and has previously asked that he be removed as mediator.

Western diplomats have urged against Camara's return to Guinea, fearing it would sabotage attempts to restore civilian rule. "Any attempt by him to return to Guinea would be a matter of concern for us," said a Washington-based US official who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Tightly guarded secret

In Guinea, top union leader Rabiatou Serah Diallo said: "We are not against Dadis, the person, 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."

The president of an opposition party, Mamadou Bah Baadikko, said even Camara's presence in Burkina Faso was "a danger for our country". He added: "If he were to return to Guinea, it would dangerously compromise a situation that is extremely fragile."

Camara had been rushed to a Moroccan hospital for emergency surgery after the December shooting 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.

Late on Tuesday, he walked off a plane at Ouagadougou airport propped up by several people. It marked the 45-year-old's first public sighting since being shot in the head by his former aide-de-camp.

A security adviser to Compaore said that when the plane landed on Tuesday, Camara thought he was in Conakry, apparently having been told he was returning home by Moroccan authorities. The adviser spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media. Government officials in Morocco could not be reached for comment.

The security adviser said Camara was dejected because he was misled. He described Camara's health as "fragile".

Heavy American pressure

Camara seized power in December 2008 following the death of the country's former strongman, Lansana Conte, promising to hand over power to civilians within a year. 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 Camara began hinting that he did not intend to step down. The turning point came on September 28, when soldiers opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators crowded inside the national soccer stadium.

A UN commission investigating the massacre said 156 people died or went missing. 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. The commission says there are reasonable grounds to suspect Camara bears "individual criminal responsibility".

Opposition leaders say Morocco was under heavy American pressure to transfer Camara to Europe, where he could more easily be jailed if The Hague-based International Criminal Court issues a warrant for his arrest for alleged involvement in the September massacre.

"Dadis had become a difficult guest for the Moroccans. They were in a bind," said Oury Bah, the No 2 of another political party in Guinea. "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."