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West African Leaders Impose Arms Embargo on Guinea

By Scott Stearns
17 October 2009

West African leaders are imposing an arms embargo against the military government in Guinea following last month's killing of opposition demonstrators.

Leaders from the Economic Community of West African States imposed the weapons ban as part of the regional alliance's convention on small arms and light weapons.

ECOWAS says Guinea's military committed "mass human rights violations" during a demonstration last month against the expected candidacy of military ruler Captain Moussa Camara.

Human rights groups say at least 157 were killed when troops opened fire on protestors. The military government says 57 people died, most in the crush of people fleeing the main sports stadium.

The International Criminal Court has opened a preliminary investigation into possible crimes against humanity during that violence. The United Nations says it will organize an international inquiry. Captain Camara has announced his own investigation.

In view of what it calls "the atrocities that have been committed," ECOWAS says violence in Guinea poses a "real threat to the peace, security and stability of the region."

In an interview with VOA, ECOWAS Executive Secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas says the regional alliance must take action to prevent Guinea from deteriorating further and threatening the fragile peace in some of its neighbors.

"ECOWAS and the AU and the U.N., the wider international community, has invested tremendously in bringing about peace to the countries of the Manu River Union area: Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, indeed next door in Cote d'Ivoire," he said.

Ivory Coast is preparing for elections next month to reunify a country split by civil war. Guinea Bissau just elected a new president following the assassination of its long-time leader. Sierra Leone and Liberia are still recovering from their own long conflicts.

ECOWAS appointed Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore to mediate the crisis in Guinea. But while both sides agree in principle to those talks, the main opposition coalition says it will not take part unless Captain Camara resigns and his ruling council is dissolved.

Captain Camara says his opponents should meet their responsibilities as political leaders and join him in a transitional government of national unity, that he says is the only way to guarantee stability.

Captain Camara has not formally announced his intention to run in presidential elections currently scheduled for January. But he has told his supporters that he will not insult them by ignoring their demands that he run.

At their extraordinary meeting in Abuja, ECOWAS leaders also threatened sanctions against Niger where President Mamadou Tandja extended his time in office through a controversial constitutional referendum.

ECOWAS says President Tandja should postpone legislative elections scheduled for Tuesday. Opposition parties are boycotting that vote. It is an election to replace a legislature that President Tandja dissolved when lawmakers said his constitutional referendum was illegal. He also dismissed the constitutional court and ruled by decree until the referendum gave him another three years in office and allowed him to run again after that if he wishes.

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