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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Monday 16 May 2005

GUINEA: Gunfire linked to jailbreak, not mutiny - Governor

CONAKRY, 16 May 2005 (IRIN) - Heavy gunfire erupted in the centre of the Guinean capital Conakry on Sunday, but a senior government official said it was linked to a breakout of prisoners from the city's main jail. He denied suggestions that it was connected to an army mutiny.

"This is simply a jail break and not a mutiny as people have been claiming," El Hadj Sory Djoubate, the Governor of Conakry told reporters.

Djoubate said those who escaped included both civilian and military prisoners, but most of them had been recaptured.

He did not say how many people were involved in the break out.

Shopkeepers hurriedly rolled down their shutters and ducked for cover as the firing broke out on Sunday morning. Police and soldiers began setting up road blocks in the city centre soon afterwards.

Eyewitnesses said one group of escapees, armed with guns, turned up at the headquarters of state radio and television where they stripped security guards of their weapons before running off.

The government of President Lansana Conte seldom gives details of people being held on political charges, but diplomats and opposition leaders believe it is still holding several military personnel arrested in a series of purges of suspected coup plotters in the armed forces over recent years.

The shooting incident took place following reports that Conte's fragile health has taken another turn for the worse.

The former army colonel who has ruled Guinea with an iron hand for 21 years, suffers from chronic diabetes and can no longer walk unassisted.

Last month, the authorities banned an edition of the Paris-based weekly magazine L'Intelligent Jeune Afrique, which reported that the 71-year-old head of state regularly slipped into a coma, sometimes for several hours at a time.

However, the magazine report was not denied and government insiders told IRIN that Conte had indeed lapsed into a series of comas in recent weeks.

Mike McGovern, the West Africa Director of the International Crisis Group, warned that speculation about the president's early demise could well be premature.

"There has been a cycle of rumour and the rumours themselves have become a political tool. For three years now we have been told that Conte has days to live, but he keeps on living," McGovern, who recently visited Guinea, told IRIN.

Conte escaped unharmed when unidentified gunmen opened fire on his motorcade on 19 January.

Despite the latest reports that his health has deteriorated, the president is still frequently seen driving through Conakry in a heavily protected convoy of vehicles.

Last weekend also saw a hefty increase in fuel prices in Guinea. Petrol shot up 52 percent to 3,800 Guinean francs (US $1.02) per litre, while diesel rose 53 percent to 3,600 francs (97 US cents).

The increase triggered an immediate rise in bus and taxi fares.



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