Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Guinea's Troubles Concern Sierra Leone, Liberia

Canada group calls for miners to place royalties in trust

Guinea shares borders with Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, Mali, and Cote d'Ivoire -- with only the nation's western fringe open to the Atlantic Ocean. As with most countries in this part of Africa, diamonds and other minerals remain plentiful. However, political tensions have grown to such a pitch that some are calling for immediate international intervention before Guinea slips further into chaos.

Guinea's President Lansana Conte, who seized power in 1984, appointed Eugene Camara as prime minister on February 9, filling this post for the first time since April 2006. It is believed that Conte chose Camara as a possible successor due to the president's failing health. But the unions rejected this appointment, calling for a strike to end the Conte regime all together. Civilian clashes followed, and Conte has since declared martial law along with a 20-hour per day curfew, which has further fueled civilian outrage.

As Conte --a former military officer-- has a strong, loyal military following, any attempt by the unions or civilians to gather in protest of the current regime has been met with military resistance.

Union leader Ibrahima Fofana, Syndicated Union of the Workers of Guinea, insisted that Conte must lift the curfew, and release hundreds of anti-government activists detained under martial law. Fofana added that the prime minister's appointment should meet consensus of the people and the unions.

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Sierra Leone's President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah expressed concern for Guinea due to the fragile political stakes across the entire region. It was also reported to President Johnson-Sirleaf that weapons cache from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Cote d'Ivoire have been making their way into southern Guinea. Should civil war break out in Guinea, Liberia and other surrounding nations would become likely targets for some 10 million living in Guinea, said President Johnson-Sirleaf.

Guinea served as the base for the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) during Liberia's 14-year war.

On February 16 the United Nations approved emergency funds ($2.35 million) for humanitarian assistance in Guinea. Funds were to be made available for medical supplies, communication systems, and humanitarian air service to remote locations in the country. Spokeswoman Michele Montas said, "The humanitarian situation has increasingly become a source of concern since a nationwide strike was launched last month."

The International Crisis Group called for world leaders to intervene in Guinea to "prevent a military takeover that could turn deadly while the United Nations should ensure President Lansana Conte meets promises of reform made to union leaders."

“The international community, which has been largely quiet and absent, needs to react urgently to help produce real change if chaos that could well spread beyond Guinea’s borders is to be prevented,” the report stated.

The group warned that any military takeover would result in a blood bath and spill over into Sierra Leone and Liberia.

One human rights group, Development and Peace, called for Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay to condemn the human rights violations taking place in Guinea, as well as "the repressive Conté regime and the armed forces responsible for the violence that has caused thousands of injuries and over 100 deaths since the beginning of the year."

"There have been reports of summary executions of civilians and harassment of union and civil society representatives, including women and youth. Security forces have looted both businesses and private homes and committed rape and other abuses against civilians, according to witnesses," the group reported. Development and Peace called upon Ottawa to support the European Parliament's demand for a United Nations international commission of inquiry to identify and bring to justice those who have participated in the killings and human rights violations.

"Canadian mining companies are playing a key role in Guinea's economy as they exploit its rich resources, such as gold, diamonds, iron and the world's largest reserves of bauxite." Development and Peace asked companies working in Guinea to place all royalties, taxes and other sums due to the government into a trust account in order to ensure that authorities would not use funds for military crackdown.

Source: diamonds.net