GUINEA: Mutinous soldiers stand down after pay-off

Monday, June 2, 2008
According to initial reports 101 people have been injured and two killed in the Guinean capital Conakry since 26 May when military officers demanding pay-offs from the government started rioting at three military camps across the city and then entered a four day stand-off with the loyalist presidential guard.

Guinea is widely viewed by analysts as a politically and military unstable threat to a region of Africa which is otherwise moving towards better governance and stability.

Many observers are concerned the current situation, which has disrupted the city but not resulted in major casualties, could lead to a dangerous power vacuum if the army splits into factions and overthrows the country’s aging and secretive President Lansana Conté.

“It is a volatile situation and we do not know where it’s going to go,” said a western diplomat.

“There have not been many casualties, so we think they were mainly firing in the air, but it is still cause for concern,” the diplomat added.


The mutinous soldiers claim they were promised back-pay by ex-prime minister Lansana Kouyaté, who was sacked by Conté on 20 May. The soldiers have also demanded that the defence minister, Bailo Diallo, be sacked.

Reuters reported on 29 May that Guinea’s new prime minister Ahmed Tidiane Souaré, a former Conté aide who replaced Kouyaté on 21 May, granted their demands for US$1,370 each in wage arrears, and that the government had made the first payment. Reuters also reported that Soare agreed to sack defence minister Diallo.

But some military officers have issued a further demand that all military leaders from the army, navy and air force be sacked.

About 100 soldiers from the presidential guard are manning the entrance to the city centre and people have started emerging from their houses where some have been hiding for five days, an IRIN correspondent in Conakry confirmed.

Demands unclear

Diplomats and residents who hunkered down to avoid being caught up in the violence say it is unclear who or what sparked the uprising, and whether it was linked to the surprise appointment of Soare.

“You never know what’s going to happen in Guinea. It is never clear what direction these things will take,” said a foreign resident.

The sacking of Kouyaté had initially sparked speculation as to whether city-dwellers would once again take to the streets in protest at the prime minister who was appointed to appease their anger over poor infrastructure and public services. In 2006 and 2007 civilian protests over the cost of living led to a military crackdown leading to approximately 130 deaths.

But apart from some small disturbances, the latest political upheaval was ignored by most people. The unions which led the riots in 2006 and 2007 have issued watered down statements since Kouyaté’s dismissal.

However Guinea’s main teachers union announced on 29 May it could launch a strike action to protest the lack of progress on its demands to the consensus government put in place in March 2007.

The army has long demanded pay of its back salaries. Military personnel looted Conakry and other garrison towns across the country in May 2007 demanding pay, and forcing the then defence minister Arafan Camara out of office.

In a statement broadcast on 29 May 2008 army chief of staff General Diarra Camara called on the military to “restrain itself”. He said negotiations between military leaders and President Conté are underway to find a solution to the crisis.

Many Guineans said they would not support strikes or the military’s violence, even though many agree Conté should end his 24 year rule. “If the military wants to get rid of President Conté they can do it, but they shouldn’t involve us and they should do it without violence,” said one Conakry resident.

Aid agencies laying low

Aid agencies have reduced their operations to a minimum as they “watch and wait” to see the outcome of the ongoing military dispute in the capital.

“We are monitoring how the situation progresses, and have advised all of our staff to be extra cautious and stay at home for the past few days,” said the United Nations resident representative Gasarabwe Mbaranga.

“We already have tight security levels in place in the city and have not changed them,” she said.

Frank Bossant, head of non-governmental organisation Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) in Conakry, said: “We are reducing our daily activities to essential services and are minimising staff movements to keep people secure”.

Medical staff from MSF are touring the city’s hospitals with medicines and equipment to help hospital staff treat the wounded and are looking for a solution to guarantee the HIV/AIDS patients it treats receive ongoing drugs despite restricted staff movements.

Members of a crisis team made up of the UN, non-governmental organisations (NGO) and local government staff met on 30 May to coordinate their response to the unrest.