Clash toll in Guinea soars, France cuts aid

Source: Reuters

* France cuts military cooperation, AU warns of sanctions * Death toll from violence rises to 157 * More than 1,250 more injured, group says (Adds ECOWAS quotes, colour) By Saliou Samb CONAKRY, Sept 29 (Reuters) – France led international pressure on Guinea’s military rulers by cutting military cooperation on Tuesday after a crackdown by the security forces on its opponents killed 157, according to a local rights group. Condemnation of Guinea’s junta intensified. France joined the African Union in mulling sanctions and West Africa’s ECOWAS called for an international enquiry into the bloody quashing of a demonstration by tens of thousands of protesters urging military ruler Captain Moussa Dadis Camara to step down. The violence on Monday was the worst since Camara seized control of the world’s top bauxite exporter in a December 2008 coup. But the junta leader said he was not responsible for the deaths and was yet to decide on standing in an election due in early 2010. “France has decided to immediately suspend military cooperation with Guinea. It is also reviewing its entire bilateral aid,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said. Kouchner said the European Union would meet on Wednesday to look at “additional measures, particularly against individuals, that could be taken swiftly” and Guinea’s former colonial ruler was consulting with the African Union and the United Nations. Guinea’s capital, Conakry, remained tense on Tuesday, with heavily armed soldiers patrolling the streets, sporadic gunfire heard and continued reports of abuse by the security forces. TOLL MORE THAN DOUBLES Earlier, an overnight death toll more than doubled. “According to hospital sources that we have spoken to, 157 dead and 1,253 injured have been registered,” said Thierno Maadjou Sow, president of the Guinean Human Rights Organisation. Sow told Reuters the figure did not include the bodies of those demonstrators killed at the September 28 stadium but which had not been delivered to hospitals. Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said hospitals in Conakry had been overwhelmed by an influx of the wounded. The clashes follow months of wrangling between Camara and his opponents, who are backed by donors and regional bodies in insisting he should not stand in a January presidential poll. Camara has not made any official declaration but diplomats say he has told them in private he will be a candidate. The African Union on Tuesday also called on Camara to confirm he would honour his pledge not to stand in the election and so allow transition back to civilian rule. FINISHING PEOPLE OFF West African body ECOWAS called for an International Committee of Inquiry to work with the AU and the U.N. to identify those responsible and “take necessary measures”. Camara rejected responsibility for the deaths, saying some elements of the security forces were not under control. “This clash did not take place because of me,” he told French state broadcaster RFI, adding that he would soon convene a meeting with leaders in Guinea to decide on his candidacy. The U.N. also condemned the killings, which eyewitnesses said were unprovoked, indiscriminate and involved sexual abuse. “Soldiers were firing at people and those who tried to get out (of the stadium) were caught and finished off with bayonets,” said Guinean human rights activist Souleymane Bah. “I saw soldiers strip women naked, spread their legs and stamp on their privates with their boots,” he added. Camara seized power after President Lansana Conte died in December 2008. After initial support from a population yearning for change after decades of misrule, Camara’s increasingly erratic behaviour against former allies in the military and political foes alike has fuelled instability. Despite mounting criticims, analysts questioned the impact it will have on those running the mineral-rich nation. “We have yet to see what tangible measures will be adopted as a clarion call to Guinea’s leadership that such an overt abuse of human rights and disproportionate use of force will not be tolerated,” said IHS Global Insight analyst Kissy Agyeman. (Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon in Paris; Writing by David Lewis and Mark John; Editing by Michael Roddy)
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