GUINEA: ‘Open house’ at army base aims to ease military, civilian relations

Thursday, August 30, 2007

In Guinea a civil-military dialogue group is organising an ‘open house’ at the country’s main military base, inviting citizens to meet with military officials to help “ease relations” between the two sectors which in recent months have met in the streets in deadly clashes.

“Our country sorely needs this kind of exchange,” said Mohamed Kouyate, programme coordinator with Guinea’s Centre for International Trade and Development (CECIDE), which is helping organise the 6 September open house at the Alpha Yaya Diallo military base in the capital, Conakry. “The main aim is to ease relations between [defence and security forces and civilians], because a country’s development cannot happen without a solid understanding among the country’s various actors.”

Guinea – where citizens’ patience is running thin over promised political and socioeconomic reforms – is still reeling from demonstrations in June 2006 and early this year when security and defence forces killed nearly 150 unarmed protesters and injured hundreds more.

“That was a bad thing for our country. But we have to come back to an understanding," said Colonel Bissi Michel, who has taken part in ongoing meetings aimed at improving relations between the military and civilians. "Without understanding between us, the military cannot carry out its work.”

He added, “A soldier is first a civilian after all.”

At the open house members of the public will be able to pose questions to security forces, while military officials are scheduled to explain their mission and their constraints to the people, CECIDE’s Kouyate told IRIN. “Civilians and the military don’t understand each other.”

Mixed views

Citizens contacted by IRIN had mixed views of an effort to smooth relations between the two, one professor saying any such move would be but a "game" because the Guinean military has always and will always be "repressive."

But Hadja Mariama Kesso Diallo, a homemaker in the Koloma neighbourhood of Conakry, said after the "savage killings" of earlier this year, dialogue between security forces and civilans is the right thing to do. "We civilians could express what we have in our hearts in an effort to erase the hate. I think that would ease tensions and the reconciliation we seek could materialise."

Mohamed Sanoussy Diaoune, a university student in Conakry, agreed that any effort to improve relations is welcome. "In January and February, the Guinean army failed in its role which is in protect citizens. Instead it massacred innocent people. So civilian-military consultation [would be] very beneficial."

The idea for the open house stems from a civilian-military committee, which includes representatives of the military, police, political parties, unions, non-governmental organisations, the media, religious groups and women’s groups. The committee, backed in part by the US Agency for International Development, holds regular meetings and works to educate both sides about their rights and responsibilities, according to Bakary Fofana of CECIDE.

Repeated clashes

The committee was set up in June 2006 following clashes between riot police and students in which at least 11 youths were shot dead. The group's aim was in part to create a dialogue between security forces and civilians to avoid such clashes.

But less than a year later, in January and February 2007, army and presidential guard troops fired on civilians again during unprecedented nationwide strikes in which demonstrators called for President Lansana Conte to step down. Among the 137 people killed were several children. Nearly 2,000 people were reportedly wounded. And a few months later more citizens were killed and injured when soldiers rioted over back pay and other grievances.

The incidents are supposed to be under investigation by a government commission, but Guineans are still waiting for results. The parliament in May unanimously passed a law creating an investigative commission but President Conte has yet to promulgate the law and the probe has yet to get off the ground, observers say.

While the government apparently has not prosecuted security forces over human rights violations, neither has it answered the military’s longstanding demands. The open house is scheduled for the same week some soldiers have said they would “make themselves heard” as they did earlier this year if the government did not pay up.

Source: IRIN