Red Berets / Bérets rouges
Before the December 2008 coup, two formations within the Guinean security services were usually provided with red berets: the Bataillon autonome de la sécurité présidentielle [autonomous battalion of presidential security, or presidential guard - BASP); and the Bataillon autonome des troupes aéroportées [autonomous Airborne Troop Battalion (BATA), an elite group of commandos. Since the coup, these two units and a few other elite battalions were regrouped into a single unit based at the CNDD headquarters at the Alpha Yaya Diallo military camp.
In contrast to Dadis, who worked and ran government operations from Camp Alpha Yaya, Konate distanced himself from the personnel and stigma of the Camp. He had shown a preference for other branches of the military than the red berets, and a willingness to take decisions by committee rather than individually.
Camp Alpha Yaya was the heart of the May 2008 military mutiny. Descriptions of the camp revealed a frenetic enclave with all of the elements of an action movie: opulent cars, booze, prostitutes, undisciplined military and guns, plotting, and celebrations. There was complete disorder at Camp Alpha Yaya. Most of the mutineers had very little professional training, many with six months or less, and that they lack discipline. Soldiers spent their time and money on marijuana, beer, and women. The camp was full of uniformed drug dealers, many of whom were already drug dealers when they were recruited into the military.
Many of the mutineers were the same soldiers who fired into crowds of civilians during the civil unrest of early 2007. The soldiers who had been detained on Kassa Island for alleged human rights abuses were released early in the mutiny, and immediately joined the mutineers at Camp Alpha Yaya. They were armed to the teeth the very same day they came back.
Everyone the local civilian community was scared of the soldiers and tired of being bullied. Even before the mutiny, soldiers would frequently threaten shopkeepers at the small boutiques just outside the camps, demanding goods for free or reduced prices. At the first sign of unrest in the camp, all of the shopkeepers closed their doors and take their products home in order to avoid theft and vandalism.
During the height of the mutiny, soldiers were threatening civilians, robbing them, and otherwise terrorizing them. The soldiers would throw smoke grenades, which are meant to be defensive devices. They still pack a small explosion when they are detonated, and a number of civilians were wounded from such explosions.
The leader of the May 2008 mutiny, Claude Pivi (aka Coplan), was perpetually drunk, and is rarely seen without a beer in his hand, or alcohol stashed somewhere in his vehicle. Pivi spent most evenings drinking with his mistress and hanging out at a bar called "Esperanza," which is located just outside the military camp. Pivi continues to maintain a high public profile, driving around in a convoy of three SUVs, one of which was given to him by the president, and another that he stole from General Baillo Diallo (the former minister of defense). Pivi's convoy was always full of armed soldiers. Pivi was popular among many of the rank and file soldiers. Contact said that Pivi is closely connected to Ousmane Conte, the president's son, and routinely received cash from him, which he in turn distributes around the camp to buy loyalty.
Pivi (nicknamed "Chef du Village" by Dadis) was closely connected to Ousmane Conte, the president's eldest son and notorious drug kingpin. Everyone was scared of Pivi, who was apparently a rather intimidating personality. Pivi seemed to have an almost limitless supply of cash, while many other young soldiers had purchased motorcycles, vehicles, and other high ticket items that they could not possibly afford on their stated salaries. The money came directly from Ousmane Conte and narco-trafficking. Pivi was reportedly generous in distributing the cash he had been receiving. Pivi would often "strut" around the camp, passing out money to soldiers and civilians alike.
Pivi frequently wore gris-gris (talismans). He was a man who saw himself as invincible, omnipotent. As an example, when the mutineers faced off with presidential loyalists at the Castro Bridge, Coplan told the rest of the mutineers to stay in their vehicles, and that he alone would get out to discuss matters with the loyalists because "bullets could not harm him." Another time, Coplan was driving in the city in his brand new pick-up truck, going the wrong way against traffic, waving people out of the way.
The chaotic and dysfunctional nature of President Moussa Dadis' government appeared to be deepening. By March 2009 Military Camp Alpha Yaya was apparently the President's preferred base of operations where he felt secure surrounded by trusted officers and friends. Most presidential business was conducted at night with the camp full of military officers, visitors, and government ministers until the early morning hours. Drugs, booze, and prostitutes rounded out camp activities.
Dadis seemed to be at the center of it all, essentially reinforcing a centralized power structure where he holds ultimate decision-making authority. His erratic and aggressive behavior continued to confound the international community as well as the Guinean public. Dadis' paranoia was increasing and he felt more secure at night with his entourage and trusted military officers surrounding him. Drug abuse could also contribute to unpredictable hours, random spurts of energy, and accentuate his paranoia.
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