US sees window of opportunity in crisis-hit Guinea

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The United States is making contact with Guinea’s defense minister to see if he may be willing to steer the West African country back to a democratic course after taking part in a coup, a senior US official said.

Defense Minister Sekouba Konate, who took charge of Guinea’s military junta after a December 3 assassination bid sent its leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara to Morocco for treatment, may be a chance to put the country right, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State William Fitzgerald said.
“We’re reaching out to try and talk to Konate,” he said.
“What we’ve always been looking for is a transition as quickly as possible to open and transparent elections. If Konate offers something like that, certainly it is something that we would consider very seriously,” he said.

Guinea is one of the world’s top producers of bauxite, a key component in aluminum, and international majors including Alcoa, Rio Tinto Alcan and Russia’s UC Rusal all have mining interests there.

Fitzgerald said the crisis in Guinea, where Camara seized power last December and soldiers staged a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners on September 28, was a symptom of a dangerous slide in West Africa until recently widely seen logging impressive political progress.
“We’re deeply concerned that West Africa has fallen back from where it was,” Fitzgerald said, noting steps backward in Mauritania, Niger and Senegal along with Guinea, which he said threatened broader instability in the resource-rich region.
“The last thing we need is rogue militia running around West Africa again,” he said.

While Camara’s would-be assassin Lieutenant Aboubacar “Toumba” Diakite is now on the run with a gang of soldiers, loyalist forces are hunting down, torturing and in some cases killing those linked to him, police and military sources say.

All options open

Fitzgerald said the United States had no direct information on the health of Camara, who was evacuated to Morocco and underwent a head operation after the December 3 attack, leaving behind a power vacuum and deeply divided army.
“Nobody’s spoken to him, and frankly the information we’re getting from the junta is unclear as well,” he said.

Asked if the United States might be pressing Morocco to offer Camara permanent exile, Fitzgerald was noncommittal. “I would say that we are reviewing all of the options we have to keep Dadis out of the country,” he said.

Camara’s spokesman told reporters in Conakry the junta chief was well and would address the nation soon.

Fitzgerald said that with Camara temporarily out of the picture, attention was focused on Konate a figure Washington believes may not share Camara’s wish for permanent power.
“All of (Camara’s) actions were ill concealed attempts to take over,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re not getting that same sense from Konate.”

But he said that it was still early days and there was no firm word from Konate on what his intentions may be.

The United States, the European Union and the African Union have all put penalties on Guinea, including visa restrictions on junta leaders, an arms embargo and financial sanctions.

But Fitzgerald said the results of these actions were at times frustrating and undercut by China, which appears willing to maintain business as usual as it expands its push to secure Africa’s natural resources.



He said that while he believed initial news reports of a new $7 billion Chinese investment in Guinea’s mining sector were exaggerated he said the figure might be closer to $100 million the overall trend was disturbing.
“We watch what the Chinese are doing with great concern,” he said. “It is frustrating to try to steer a government back to the constitutional track and to have people dealing with that country in a business context.”