GUINEA

France suspects junta leader linked to stadium massacre

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said France suspects Guinea's military leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara was involved in last week’s deadly crackdown on an opposition rally at a Conakry football stadium.

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AFP - France suspects Guinea's military leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara personally took part in the decision to order a crackdown on opposition protesters, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Wednesday.

"The least we can say is that we strongly suspect the interim president to have ... taken part in the decision," Kouchner told the French parliament's foreign affairs commission when asked about Camara's role.

Camara, who seized power last year, insists he was not responsible for his troops' actions, but the massacre, which witnesses say was coupled with the mass rape of women demonstrators, has triggered international outrage.

UN officials and human rights groups say more than 150 people were killed on September 28 when Guinean troops opened fire on an unarmed crowd gathered in a stadium in Guinea's capital Conakry to protest against Camara's rule.

The junta in Conakry says that 56 people died and admitted that a dozen had gunshot wounds, but claims others were trampled in a stampede.

"Was Captain Dadis responsible or not for this savage intervention by the Guinean army in the stadium where the opposition was protesting?" Kouchner asked. "It's hard to say, because obviously he and everyone else denies it."

"Nevertheless, it was red berets, the forces that surround the leader of the coup d'etat," he said, noting that Camara "still lives in the military camp and not in the presidential palace".

Kouchner said the Camara loyalists who carried out the killings were largely "foresters" -- members of groups from the dense forests of southeastern Guinea -- and said he had heard they were "recently reinforced by Liberian troops, former mercenaries".

France, Guinea's former colonial ruler, has cut military ties with the regime since the massacre and Kouchner has previously said Paris "can no longer work with Dadis Camara", calling for international intervention.

An aide to Camara accused Kouchner of carrying out a "political and media lynching" of the Guinea regime and appealed to President Nicolas Sarkozy to rein him in.

"We are asking the highest political authority to ask Bernard Kouchner to show restraint. It's very, very important," said Idrissa Sherif, an advisor to the Camara, in an interview with France 24.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed outrage Tuesday over the alleged killings and rapes by junta forces and said the junta led by Camara must recognize "they cannot remain in power".

State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood, elaborating Wednesday on her remarks, told AFP that "we believe Camara's failure of leadership makes him an untenable mentor for the democratic transition Guinea needs to restore stability and democracy".

"He should act in the best interests of Guinea by taking immediate action to allow a transition to constitutional democracy. The junta needs to stand by its promise to hold free, fair, timely and transparent elections," Wood said.

Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore has stepped in as a regional mediator.

Guinea's opposition has set tough terms for progress, which include the resignation of the junta, the arrest of those responsible for the massacre and moves to appoint a new interim government of national unity.

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