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Troops seize Guinean deputy army chief

Latest update : 2008-05-27

Guinean soldiers held the deputy army chief over a longstanding pay dispute Monday. The latest mutiny increased fears of unrest following President Lansana Conte's surprise sacking of a consensus prime minister last week.

Soldiers in Guinea's capital fired into the air and seized the deputy army chief in a mutiny over pay on Monday, stoking tensions in a week-old political crisis in the world's top bauxite exporter.

 

The mutiny in the West African state's biggest army base increased fears of unrest following President Lansana Conte's surprise sacking of a consensus prime minister last week, which has infuriated opposition unions and political parties.

 

Guinea's fractious armed forces, a key pillar of support for the ageing Conte since he seized power in a 1984 coup, have staged several protests and mutinies over pay and conditions.

 

The latest mutiny broke out on Monday at the Alpha Yaya Diallo base in the capital Conakry, where the country's elite commando and ranger units are housed.

 

Witnesses said the mutinous troops fired into the air, terrifying local residents.

 

They also seized the deputy army chief, General Mamadou Sampil, when he tried to negotiate with them over their demands for the payment of back pay promised by the outgoing government.

 

"General Sampil went down there to try to convince the soldiers to stop firing in the air in protest. The young troops took him ... they even stripped off his rank badges," a junior officer, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

 

Another military source said the defence minister, General Mamadou Bailo Diallo, had also tried to reason with the protesting soldiers but was chased off by a hail of stones.

 

There was no immediate report of casualties and authorities were negotiating with the protesting troops.

 

The mutiny occurred at a time when Conte, a chain-smoking and reclusive diabetic in his mid-70s, is facing strong resistance from labour and political opponents to his May 20 appointment of Ahmed Tidiane Souare as prime minister.

 

 

 

STRIKE THREAT

 

Conte appointed Souare, former mines minister, from his own ruling party after sacking Lansana Kouyate, who was made prime minister last year in a consensus deal to end a bloody general strike and riots in which more than 130 people were killed.

 

Most of the dead were unarmed civilians shot dead by Conte's security forces.

 

At least one union chief has warned of a possible repeat of the 2007 strike that plunged the country into turmoil and for a time paralysed the strategic bauxite industry.

 

The former French colony holds a third of the world's known reserves of bauxite, which is used to make aluminium.

 

Despite the country's mineral riches which also includes iron ore, diamonds, gold and uranium, most Guineans live in poverty and there have been frequent street protests in recent years against the rising cost of food and fuel.

 

The dispute over the premier's appointment is the latest in a series of power struggles. Rival groups of aides and officials have long jostled for influence over the capricious Conte and for access to the revenues from exports of bauxite.

Date created : 2008-05-27

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