Guinea junta troops 'killed and raped hundreds at democracy rally'
The African Union threatened to impose sanctions on the junta in Guinea yesterday after more than 150 pro-democracy demonstrators were killed and hundreds were raped by government soldiers on Monday.
About 50,000 demonstrators had gathered at the main stadium in Conakry, the capital, to protest after reports that the head of the regime, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, had reneged on a deal to stand down in favour of free elections.
Presidential guards opened fire on the protesters with live ammunition and teargas. "Soldiers were firing at people and those who tried to get out were caught and finished off with bayonets," Souleymane Bah, a Guinean human rights activist, said.
The bodies of 157 people were taken to hospital mortuaries and 1,253 wounded were admitted for treatment but an unknown number of dead were removed from the stadium by the military.
Many witnesses testified to brutal and sexual violence. "I saw the Red Berets [government soldiers] catch some of the women who were trying to flee, rip off their clothes and stick their hands in their private parts," one witness told Human Rights Watch.
Another said: "I saw several women stripped and then put inside military trucks and taken away."
Key opposition figures were rounded up at the stadium. Some were released after pressure from the European Union and the African Union.
Captain Camara denied that he should be held responsible. "Those people who committed those atrocities were un-
controllable elements in the military," he said. Captain Camara took power in December after staging a bloodless coup hours after Lansana Conté, the President, died. Captain Camara promised to lead Guinea to democracy and said that he would not stand in elections due in 2009. They have been pushed back to 2010 and he now says that he can run.
The African Union is preparing an investigation that could result in sanctions. France, the former colonial ruler of Guinea, is suspending military ties and Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, called for an EU meeting today to decide on a response.
Rich and poor
- Guinea has a population of 9.8 million and covers 98,000 square miles - roughly the same area as Britain
- It possesses more than a quarter of the world's known reserves of bauxite, the ore used to produce aluminium. Despite its mineral wealth, which includes iron, diamonds and gold, the country is one of the world's poorest
- Unlike the rest of France's former West African colonies, Guinea fell out with Paris at the time of independence, which it declared in 1958
- After a lengthy period under dictatorship, the regime introduced a multiparty system in 1994. The military leader, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, below, came to power in a coup last December after the death of the long-term leader Lansana Conté, a former army general
- Bordering Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, Guinea has been destabilised by a series of civil wars in the region since the 1990s