/ 6 November 2009

Guinea junta sneaks in weapons

Guinea’s military junta has imported millions of dollars worth of weapons in recent weeks — allegedly with the help of South African mercenaries — despite international sanctions imposed on the country after the presidential guard massacred 160 people at an opposition rally in September.

Light arms worth $45-million were flown into the country on October 23 in defiance of the embargo, said local and diplomatic sources in Conakry.

Sources suggest the weapons were bought in Ukraine by the defence minister, Sekouba Konate, during a recent private visit, and their arrival was supervised by a specially hired group of South African security advisers.

South Africa’s Beeld newspaper alleges that as many as 50 mercenaries could be in Guinea working for the government and the president, Captain Moussa ”Dadis” Camarra, who seized power after a coup last December.

The atmosphere in Conakry is increasingly tense. Last week a city-wide strike was called. Most shops and banks closed to mark one month since the violent suppression of an anti-government rally at the national football stadium.

Local human rights workers believe scores were killed when government soldiers, led by members of the presidential guard, opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators at a stadium on September 28.

Dozens of women were raped in a coordinated attack by the military, which prompted international outrage. A series of sanctions followed, including a freeze on assets and travel bans against the leaders of the junta.

Camarra disputes the number of dead, blaming rogue military elements for the violence, which he claims was provoked by the opposition. But he now appears to be an isolated figure, cancelling his weekly television appearances and refusing requests for media interviews.

This may in part be due to a recent intimate profile by the French television channel France 24, which filmed Camarra in his pyjamas in the presidential bed. He showed the reporter his preferred bedtime reading, The Power of Positive Thinking.

French media have since been ejected from the country.

Camarra is now rarely seen on the streets. Sources in the military say he is becoming fearful of a counter-coup from within his own military.

The chief of presidential security, Claude Pivi, who is believed to have personally supervised the September attack, now drives through town escorted by no fewer than seven battle wagons with anti-aircraft guns strapped to the back.

In the 50 years since it won independence from France, Guinea has never known a freely elected government.

To shore up support, Camarra has begun recruiting militia units from among his own Forestier ethnic group in the east of the country. He has promoted fellow Forestiers to senior positions in preference to those from other tribes. —