By Mouctar Bah (AFP) – 3 hours ago
CONAKRY — Guinean authorities arrested 37 soldiers on Wednesday over an assassination bid against President Alpha Conde as they sought to stamp out tensions in the coup-prone country.
Guinea’s first democratically-elected leader escaped unhurt after a rocket hit his home in Conakry early Tuesday morning, but a member of his presidential guard was killed fighting off rogue soldiers in a two-hour gun battle.
Prime Minister Mohamed Said Fofana convened an emergency meeting of his security chiefs on Tuesday, stressing they must act “to prevent things going uncontrollably downhill” just seven months since elections.
“He asked us to calm the population and the soldiers in their barracks,” said Rabiatou Serah Diallo, president of the National Transition Council, which is overseeing parliament until legislative elections later this year.
As government sought to contain the fallout of the attack, 37 soldiers were being held at the national police headquarters in Conakry and former army chief Nouhou Thiam, arrested Tuesday, was still in custody and considered a suspect.
A military source said among those arrested are allies of former junta chief Moussa Dadis Camara who led the country between 2008 and 2009 after seizing power when longtime military ruler Lansana Conte died.
Soldiers with links to General Sekouba Konate — who led the transition government after Camara was shot in the head by a close aide until Conde’s election in November 2010 — were also among those being questioned.
An influential colonel nicknamed “De Gaulle” who has ties to Konate is among those arrested, as well as Alpha Oumar Diallo, a commander and ally of former president Conte.
Meanwhile a leader of the main opposition Guinean Union for Democratic Forces (UFDG), Mamadou Oury Bah, has been “missing” ever since soldiers ransacked and looted his house in Conakry on Tuesday night, his family said.
Conde moved quickly to give assurances that the attack, condemned by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, was not a coup.
“This was an assassination attempt,” but “not a coup d’etat,” Conde told Radio France Internationale.
Conde told state television that members of his presidential guard, one of whom died in the shootout while two were hurt, fought “heroically” in the two-hour battle until backup arrived around dawn.
He said he escaped injury because he was not sleeping in his bedroom when it was blasted with bazookas and rocket-propelled grenades.
“I urge you to calm, but (also) to vigilance and national unity,” Conde told Guineans. “I do not want any popular reaction, no reaction against anybody; leave the army and the security forces to do their work.”
The tension comes seven months after Conde took office following his victory over rival and UFDG leader Cellou Dalein Diallo.
Diallo, who has recently denounced the new government’s “autocratic tendencies” told AFP he hoped the attack would not affect the “unity, democratic process and fragile social fabric” of the former French colony.
The UN’s Ban called Tuesday “on all Guineans to refrain from all acts likely to undermine the ongoing peaceful and democratic process in the country,” said his spokesman Martin Nesirky.
The 73-year-old Conde faces the huge task of turning around a nation plagued by decades of deadly political violence and ethnic gamesmanship, coups and oppression by its security forces.
Parliamentary elections were due to be held six months after his inauguration, but Conde’s insistence that a new census should come first has drawn criticism from opponents.
Conde suggested the attack may have been masterminded by rogue army officers displeased at recent anti-corruption measures.
“Clearly some people are not happy” about the reforms, he told RFI.
The country remains poor despite its mineral wealth as the world’s leading exporter of bauxite, the ore that is the main provider of aluminium.