Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Presidents of Liberia, Sierra Leone press Guinea leader for solution to crisis

CONAKRY, Guinea: The presidents of Liberia and Sierra Leone urged Guinea's president to find a solution to weeks of violence that analysts say could plunge Guinea into a conflict that would destabilize West Africa.

Meanwhile, the first day of negotiations between the government and two union leaders whose calls for the president's resignation fueled protests ended without agreement.

Two waves of violent anti-government protests and rioting in Guinea since mid-January have left at least 115 people dead in the capital, Conakry. Human rights groups say dozens more have been killed in the interior of the country. President Lansana Conte declared martial law a week ago, saying a military crackdown was the only way to prevent a civil war.

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Sierra Leone's President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah flew here to urge President Lansana Conte to "find a settlement to the Guinean crisis," according to a statement issued by the Liberian government.

Guinean radio reported Conte told them he would make all efforts to find a peaceful solution through talks with the unions.

Liberia and Sierra Leone are still recovering from their own conflicts. Fighting lasted over a decade in both countries, with Liberia only emerging from conflict in 2003 when former president Charles Taylor was exiled to Nigeria.

A recent report issued by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based conflict think tank, warned that a violent uprising in Guinea could throw the fragile region back into conflict.

The three presidents also agreed to reinforce security measures to protect their shared borders against attacks from militiamen, according to the radio report.

The violence started in mid-January when a general strike called by union leaders over the cancellation of a corruption trial led to calls for Conte to resign. Thousands of protesters tried to march on the capital and soldiers fired into the crowd.

In a compromise deal, Conte agreed to share power with a prime minister. But protests erupted again last week after the president named a close ally for the post. Martial law — along with the curfew and military searches that accompany it — is set to expire on Friday.

Union leaders and government officials restarted negotiations Tuesday, with both of two main union heads — Rabiatou Serah Diallo and Ibrahima Fofana — showing up to talk for the first time since the most recent violence.

Still, "no decisions were made," said Fatoumata Diakite, a member of a Guinean union organization who attended the meeting. Diakite said the question of the prime minister continues to be the sticking point.

Guinea has not had a prime minister since Conte fired Cellou Dalein Diallo from the post in April.

Guinea's 10 million people are impoverished and many live without the most basic public services, even though the country has half the world's reserves of bauxite, used to produce aluminum.

Source: IHT.com