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Guinea Conflict

The civil wars that engulfed Liberia and then Sierra Leone during the 1990s negatively affected relations between Guinea and these two fellow Mano River Union member countries. Guinea and Liberia accused each other of supporting opposition dissidents, and in late 2000 and early 2001, Guinean dissidents backed by the Liberian government and RUF rebels from Sierra Leone brutally attacked Guinea. These attacks caused over 1,000 Guinean deaths and displaced more than 100,000 Guineans. The attacks led to Guinea's support for the LURD (Liberians United For Reconciliation and Democracy) rebels in their attacks against the Liberian government of Charles Taylor. Taylor's departure for exile in August 2003 and the establishment of an interim government has led to friendlier relations between the two countries and lower tension on Guinea's southern border.

In 2000, a quarter of a million people were internally displaced in southeastern Guinea following an attempted invasion by insurgents backed by former Liberian president Charles Taylor. This was rapidly suppressed by the armed forces of President Lansana Conte.

Beginning in September 2000, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel army, backed by Liberian President Charles Taylor, commenced large-scale attacks into Guinea from Sierra Leone and Liberia. The RUF, known for their brutal tactics in the near decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone, operated with financial and material support from the Liberian Government and its allies. These attacks destroyed the town of Gueckedou as well as a number of villages, causing large-scale damage and the displacement of tens of thousands of Guineans from their homes. The attacks also forced the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to relocate many of the 200,000 Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees residing in Guinea. As a result of the attacks, legislative elections scheduled for 2000 were postponed.

After the initial attacks in September 2000, President Cont, in a radio address, accused Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees living in the country of fomenting war against the government. Soldiers, police, and civilian militia groups rounded up thousands of refugees, some of whom they beat and raped. Approximately, 3,000 refugees were detained, although most were released by year's end.

Between January and April 2001, Guinea's army crossed into northern Sierra Leone on a number of occasions in pursuit of RUF rebels and other attackers from Sierra Leone and Liberia. During these actions, Guinea security forces killed a number of civilians and destroyed numerous houses and other structures in RUF-occupied villages; however, no statistics were available at year's end. According to Amnesty International, Guinea's army made little or no effort to minimize civilian deaths and injuries when artillery and helicopter gunships attacked five towns and villages in the Kambia District of Sierra Leone. On 26 January 2001, a Guinean helicopter gunship attacked the town of Kamakwie, reportedly killing 12 civilians. On 15 February 2001, Guinean artillery fire allegedly killed four civilians from one extended family in Sabuya. In a separate incident, a 3-year-old girl reportedly was killed in a Guinean artillery attack on the village in Rokel. On May 18, according to a UNAMSIL commander, a small child was killed in a Guinean artillery attack in the town of Rokupr. On January 30, Liberian Defense Minister Daniel Chea reported that a Guinean helicopter gunship attacked Solumba, a northern border town, killing at least 10 persons; however, there was no independent confirmation of the report. On May 17, Guinean troops shelled a group of RUF rebels at a disarmament site, which killed at least one civilian. Guinean and Sierra Leonean officials determined that the attack was an accident, and the commanding officer was removed immediately from his post. Following the incident, Guinean armed forces ceased cross border operation against the RUF.

In November 2001, a nationwide referendum, which some observers believe was flawed, amended the constitution to permit the president to run for an unlimited number of terms, and to extend the presidential term from 5 to 7 years. The country's second legislative election, originally scheduled for 2000, was held in June 2002. President Cont's Party of Unity and Progress (PUP) and associated parties won 91 of the 114 seats. Most major opposition parties boycotted the legislative elections, objecting to inequities in the existing electoral system.

The border with Liberia remained officially closed during 2003; however, the Government continued to accept refugees. There was a pattern of accepting refugees from neighboring countries, such as Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia, while denying access to other nationals. In January 2003, the Government turned away third country nationals from Burkina Faso, Mali, and other West African countries fleeing fighting in Liberia or Cote d'Ivoire after the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was unable to finance their repatriation. The Government subsequently accepted such persons after IOM's funding was restored.

During 2003 there were reports from NGOs and the UNHCR that the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) forcibly recruited refugees at camps in Guinea. There also were confirmed reports that government soldiers at some border crossing points were cooperating with the Liberian dissident movement LURD to screen refugees for forced recruitment. In response to a UNHCR request, in January the Government agreed to relocate refugees from Kouankan to camps near Kissadougou that were farther from the Liberian border. The relocation began in May but was suspended due to the changing political situation in Liberia and due to improved security inside the camp.

In June 2004, two days of fighting between rival ethnic communities in Guinea's southeastern town of Nzerekore forced UN agencies working with refugees in the surrounding area to suspend their operations temporarily. There were disturbances in Nzerekore involving members of the Malinke and Guerze ethnic groups, but no details of casualties were immediately available. Guinean security forces had arrested a large number of people in the town, including many Liberians carrying guns. Some of these had been identified as members of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel movement. Tension had been rising there for some time as a result of tens of thousands of refugees from Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire living in the area with the help of foreign aid alongside an impoverished rural population, which plays host to an estimated 100,000 returned Guinean migrants from Cote d'Ivoire .




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