Guinea at risk of counter-coup: Crisis Group

The international community must pressure Guinea’s military rulers to restore civilian rule quickly before authoritarian measures erode popular support for anti-corruption moves, a conflict think-tank said yesterday.
International Crisis Group warned that Guinea still risked a counter-coup, more than two months after military officers seized power in the world’s biggest bauxite exporter when veteran President Lansana Conte died in late December.
The National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD) junta has announced a crackdown on corruption, arresting Conte family members accused of aiding drug-traffickers, but uncertainty hangs over the holding of promised polls, Reuters reports.
“Concerted national and international pressure is urgently needed to produce a return to civilian rule, even before elections if the junta begins to stall on preparations for a vote,” Crisis Group said in a briefing published on Thursday.
The think-tank said the international community, civil society and political parties should reject the CNDD staying in power if polls are not held before the end of 2009, as promised.
After 24 years in power, Conte died on December 23, leaving the country mired in poverty, corruption and in-fighting despite several previous attempts at political dialogue.
Large crowds cheered Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara when he took power and the coup received some regional support. But it was condemned internationally, with the United States cutting aid and the African Union suspending the country’s membership.
Crisis Group said Camara’s CNDD had tried to portray themselves as a new generation, breaking from the past, but they “have shown some signs that they could be as difficult to shift from power as the former president and his clan”. 
The CNDD has arrested Conte’s son and brother-in-law, accusing them of aiding Latin American drug dealers who have targeted a string of weak states in West Africa, where analysts say they have been able to buy protection for cocaine smuggling.
On Wednesday, the junta abolished the Supreme Court and suspended the privileges of the judicial police in a move that appeared to be aimed at preventing officials from the Conte regime from seeking immunity from prosecution.
The global economic slowdown has hit Guinea hard, with mining revenues set to plummet as aluminium prices fall.
After a record 13.7 million tonnes of bauxite exports last year, Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee — which is 51 percent owned by a joint venture controlled by Alcoa and Rio Tinto, and accounts for 80 percent of Guinea’s mining income — has already had to cancel some shipments in 2009.
“As Guinea’s dire economic prospects erode popular support, the junta, unpractised in governing, is also in danger of resorting to authoritarian measures,” ICG said.
Tension is simmering in the armed forces, highlighted by a naval officer’s attempt to kill the Navy chief last month.
Several members of the junta have also been arrested, accused of trying to destabilising the situation, while analysts say officers who missed a round of promotions are unhappy.
“With the risk of a counter-coup from dissatisfied army elements still present, a democratic transition at best faces a long and difficult road,” Crisis Group said.