Saturday, May 12, 2007

Army of Darkness

Guinea appears once again on the brink of chaos as soldiers have taken to the streets in recent weeks demanding new uniforms, promotions, and long-promised wage increases by firing their weapons and marching on the presidential palace. According to the Guinean government, the nationwide demonstrations have resulted in the death of at least six Guineans, and the injuries of at least 70 others.

Conakry has turned into a ghost town since h
undreds of armed soldiers mutinous began marching from Camp Samory Touré, near the internationl airport, towards downtown, seeout of the control of government and senior military officials. This report from IRIN describes how even President Lansana Conté's personal Presidential Guard was forced to flee from the armed mutinous soldiers.

As Lansana Kouyaté explains in his public address to the citizens of Guinea, the government is attempting to meet the demands of the soldiers, but calls for soldiers to first cease their violent demonstrations.

Soldiers' protests in Guinea are held in haphazard, dangerous fashion, usually involving random rifle fire in the air; the stray bullets inadverently hit human targets as they fall back to earth.

Today, the ailing president Lansana Conté (a former army colonel, and self-appointed "general") has met one of the protesting soldiers' demands, purging three of the top ranking generals in the army. However, he has so-far refused to demission Kerfala Camara, the man responsible for the infamous martial law in Conakry during the second round of nationwide rioting in February; and neither the president nor the prime minister have given any response to salary demands. According to the BBC, Kouyaté's government may find it difficult to find a solution since the government lacks any obvious means of meeting demands outside of printing more money—a potentially dangerous move given Guinea's 30% annual inflation.

According to someone close to the U.S. Embassy in Guinea, U.S. personnel remian under a security watch and her personal opinion is that there may be another evacuation of Embassy personnel if the situation doesn't stabilize in the coming days.

Privately, foreign diplomats wonder how much longer Conté can cling to power in an increasingly unstable and volatile political environment where even his own military demands change. The ease with which the disgruntled soldiers reached the Presidential Palace demonstrates the fragility of the regime, and the ease with which a potential coup could be effected.

It appears that hopes for a new, calmer Guinea will have to be put on hold, once again.

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