'Guinea can avert collapse'

2009-11-18 12:17

London - Sierra Leone, trying to rebuild an economy shattered by a decade-long civil war, is confident neighbouring Guinea can avert collapse and will not destabilise the fragile West African region, a senior minister said.

In an interview with Reuters Insider TV, Trade and Industry Minister David Carew said a standoff between Guinea's government and opposition could be solved without descending into the type of violence which tore his country apart in the 1990s.

"We are very concerned naturally," Carew said.

"We are certain that the situation will not deteriorate significantly because they have got experience of what happened to Sierra Leone and I don't think they'll allow that to happen."

Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war killed 50 000 people and pushed out many foreign investors. Carew said it was working with African bodies for a peaceful outcome to the Guinea crisis.

Whole new attitude

Guinea's opposition is demanding the military junta give up the power it seized last December. Tensions have risen since the September 28 killings of opposition protesters in a soccer stadium by security forces, an incident human rights groups described as a pre-planned massacre.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, attending an investment conference in London with Sierra Leone officials, said he was confident the Guinea crisis need not spill over into neighbouring countries.

Blair, who sent British troops into Sierra Leone in 2000 after rebels flouted a peace deal, refused to be drawn on how the international community should respond if the Guinea situation worsens.

"The government in Sierra Leone has changed two times now by democratic mandate, but, more than that, there is a whole new attitude in Sierra Leone around investment, around developing the opportunities of the country."

Healthy emerging market

Sierra Leone is hoping it can show the London conference it is a healthy emerging market with promising opportunities in sectors like agriculture, mining and tourism and shake off its association with war, corruption and chronic under-development.

Crude oil was discovered off the coast in September, exciting investors who have high hopes for a multibillion-barrel oil frontier in the region.

Carew said Sierra Leone would not allow oil to become the curse it has been in many developing countries, saying it was "learning from the mistakes" others had made.

Sierra Leone sacked two ministers earlier this month for corruption in what Carew said showed its seriousness.

"For me that sends a very strong signal and it proves that the government is serious about tackling corruption, and I think that's a very strong message also for the international community."