/ 9 November 2023

Guinea junta purges security services

Guinea Security
Breaking free?: Former Guinea dictator Moussa Dadis Camara either escaped from jail or was kidnapped by a group of armed men. He has since been rearrested. Photo: Seyllou Diallo/ AFP

Guinea’s ruling junta has purged 58 members of the security services and called for calm after a jailbreak saw armed commandos pluck former dictator Moussa Dadis Camara from prison and left nine dead.

Heavily armed men burst into the prison in the capital Conakry on Saturday, taking Camara and three former senior officials who are on trial with him over a 2009 massacre during his presidency.

Nine people died in the raid, according to a provisional toll.

It remains unclear whether the group had escaped or been taken against their will as their lawyers have stated.

Camara’s lawyer, Jean-Baptiste Jocamey Haba, repeated on Monday that he had been kidnapped.

The authorities say it was an escape.

Government spokesman Ousmane Gaoual Diallo told Radio France Internationale it was “difficult to explain” as a kidnapping.

Camara’s lawyer and the army announced within hours of the breakout that his client and two of his three companions had been caught and were back behind bars, without providing details.

The army described the operation as an attempt to sabotage government reforms and swore its “unwavering commitment” to the military-led regime.

With the commando raid at first raising fears of a coup attempt, the authorities have repeatedly called for calm and declared they have the situation under control.

“Thank God, the chaos that evil minds [wanted] to provoke after this event, this chaos has been halted,” Prime Minister Bernard Goumou said on Sunday. He urged people to “remain calm, stay peaceful and may everyone carry on quietly about their business”.

Security forces were on Monday closely checking vehicles entering the government district, looking for weapons and the last escaped prisoner, Colonel Claude Pivi, who is still on the run.

Questions have been raised about security at the jail and the government spokesman said “agents” on the inside had allowed the commando to enter the facility.

He also accused members of the Republican Guard, soldiers from the Airborne Troop Battalion, an elite group of commando, prison guards and gendarmes of being involved in the operation. 

Prosecutor General Yamoussa Conte announced on Monday that nine people had died in the jailbreak operation.

Three were suspected attackers, the others included four members of the security forces and two people, presumed to be civilians, who had been in an ambulance and were reportedly caught in crossfire.

A hospital official said one of the dead was a six-year-old girl who had been in the ambulance with her family and a doctor. 

The junta in the West African country, which seized power in September 2021, on Sunday published a series of decrees pronouncing the removal from their jobs of 58 members of the military and prison administrative staff.

Pivi, a minister during Camara’s rule, and two other colonels who also escaped from jail on Saturday, were among those removed.

The authorities said Pivi’s son, a former soldier, led the commando raid, a claim denied by the family’s lawyer, Fode Kaba Cherif.

The lawyer told public radio he had spoken to Colonel Pivi by telephone twice before losing contact and that he had been kidnapped and was afraid.

Camara has been detained since going on trial in September 2022. He and about 10 other former military and government officials, including the three colonels, stand accused over a massacre in 2009 carried out by security forces loyal to the then junta leader.

At least 156 people were killed and an estimated 109 women were raped at a political rally attended by opposition supporters in a Conakry stadium on 28 September and in the days that followed, according to an inquiry mandated by the United Nations.

Camara, who came to power in a coup in December 2008, and his co-defendants are charged with murder, sexual violence, torture, abduction and kidnapping. 

The trial is unprecedented in a country ruled for decades by authoritarian regimes, where people had become used to the impunity of the security forces.

It had been due to resume on Monday but was adjourned because of a strike by lawyers. 

Camara seized power immediately after the death of Lansana Conte, Guinea’s second post-independence president, who had ruled autocratically for 24 years.

Several months after the massacre, Camara was ousted after suffering a head wound in an attempted assassination by his aide de camp in December 2009.Guinea is led by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, who overthrew civilian president Alpha Conde in September 2021. — AFP