Guinea: Leaders seek solution

2009-10-18 11:01

Abuja - West African leaders on Saturday went into emergency session to chart a way out of the crisis in Guinea which they fear unchecked could erupt into civil war and destabilise the region.

Nigerian leader Umaru Yar'Adua who holds the rotating presidency of the regional bloc ECOWAS stressed the need for a "robust" solution to resolve the troubles in Guinea and Niger "before they snowball into unmanagable tragedy".

The 15-country Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) is especially under pressure to adopt a tough line against the Guinea regime in the wake of last month's deadly crackdown on opposition activists by government soldiers.

A junta led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara who seized power last December shortly after the death of long-time strongman Lansana Conte has been roundly blamed for the massacre of dozens of opposition rally goers at a Conakry stadium on September 28.

Last month's deadly crackdown and Camara's intention to stand for elections despite his earlier pledge, have piled pressure on the regional leaders. Presidential elections in Guinea are just three months away.

Niger's leader Mamadou Tandja who defied all international, regional and domestic opposition to his plans to extend his stay in office, is also a thorn in the flesh of the regional grouping.

Yar'Adua said the "seemingly intractable" crises needed "feasible, robust and practical solutions".

"We cannot fold our arms and watch the situation degenerate into conflicts of monumental proportion without employing appropriate intervention measures to effectively arrest the drift," said Yar'Adua.

Nigeria has hinted that sanctions are most likely to be slapped on the regime, while a grouping of regional and international bodies want the junta to step aside for a neutral transitional body to organise the elections.

The UN special representative for West Africa Said Djinnit said it was important that ECOWAS tokk a position against the junta particularly in the wake of "massive violations of human rights".

"It is in the interest of the ECOWAS to help prevent the situation in Guinea from deteriorating further because its repercussions could be catastrophic," Djinnit told AFP ahead of the talks in Nigeria's administrative capital Abuja.

The United Nations on Friday said it would launch an investigation into the September 28 massacre of opposition activists in which 157 people died and over a thousand injured and women raped.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague is also probing the football stadium rally mass killings.

"All steps must be taken to stop the spate of killings of innocent Guineans who are yearning for immediate restoration to constitutional order," said Yar'Adua.

The Camara-led junta already faces an African Union deadline on Saturday for the military leaders to rule themselves out of the upcoming vote in the world's top bauxite exporter.

Yar'Adua said it was an ECOWAS obligation "to urge" the Camara junta to formalise "their commitments not to partake in the elections in the interest of peace and unity in that country."

The International Crisis Group think tank warned: "If military rule in Guinea is not rapidly ended, there is a serious risk the country will slide into a civil war that could destabilise all West Africa."

Following the August constitutional referendum which saw him extend his grip on power, Niger's Tandja is due to hold legislative elections on Tuesday despite an opposition boycott.

"It is our abiding duty to impress it on the two leaders to respect the principles of democratic and constitutional transition," said Yar'Adua.