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Soldier protest turns to mutiny

Latest update : 2008-05-29

What began on Monday as a protest over soldier wages has spiraled into calls for the army's top brass to be sacked and deadly violence in the Guinean capital of Conakry. At least three are dead; presidential guards have set up road blocks.

Tension rose in the Guinean capital Conakry Thursday with the presidential guard setting up road blocks to the entrance to a key government neighbourhood as soldiers demanded the army's top brass be sacked.

The presidential guard set up barricades around the entrance to the Kaloum peninsula which houses the presidential palace, the army headquarters and some of the main embassies late Thursday morning.

The presidential guard also searched cars and taxis on the bridge linking the peninsula to the rest of the capital.

The pay protest, which began Monday, has seen troops go on the rampage in the mineral-rich west African nation -- thought to contain up to half the world's bauxite reserves -- leaving at least three people dead and dozens hurt as they looted shops and robbed civilians.

In a radio speech the Guinean army chief of staff general Diarra Camara urged the protesting soldiers to "fall back in line".

"For more than a month we have been living in a climate of distrust between the branches of the same army," he told national radio.

"However during the first days we took the demands (of the soldiers) into consideration and submitted them to the president for his approval."

Earlier this week the Guinean government said that "following the demands formulated by the soldiers," it would pay out five million Guinean francs (785 euros, 1,234 dollars) to each in stages to cover the wage arrears.

It said the payment of the first million francs would come before the end of the month.

"I hope that this declaration will make everybody fall back in line. I urge you to think of the economic situation of the nation and of our population whose lives we are charged with protecting," general Camara said.

There was little traffic in the Guinean capital on Thursday, and many stores and filling stations were closed.

The situation remained tense, however, after soldiers shooting in the air raided a police building in the Hamdallaye neighbourhood, a military source said. No one was hurt, but the soldiers made off with some light weapons.

The soldiers are staging a second protest for wage arrears in as many years with military sources saying Thursday that the soldiers now are calling for all officers above the rank of colonel to be dismissed.

"They think they are not in solidarity with them," the source, who did not want to be named, told AFP.

There are about 10 officers above the rank of colonel in Guinea, ruled by strongman General Lansana Conte since 1984. The army is a pillar of Conte's administration.

The soldiers have also captured Guinea's deputy chief-of-staff, General Mamadou Sampil, and held him since Monday afternoon at the country's largest military base near Conakry's international airport.

Major Korka Diallo, who is in charge of military finances, and two other officers wounded Monday were flown to Morocco for treatment, military sources said Wednesday.

The protests came a year after similar mutinies in several towns across Guinea over the same issue, when at least eight people died and dozens more were injured by stray bullets.

Last week Conte dismissed prime minister Lansana Kouyate, a compromise candidate put forward under a deal to end a general strike and massive protests in 2007, and replaced him with his confidant Ahmed Tidiane Souare.

The dismissal of Kouyate was one of the soldiers' grievances, as they said they had nobody to address their complaints to since his departure.

Date created : 2008-05-29