Global Policy Forum

Guinea Refuses Stationing of ECOWAS Troops


By Saliou Samb

April 27, 2001

Guinean officials have reaffirmed their opposition to the deployment of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) troops on their soil as long as the mandate for the troops is not clearly defined. At the end of last year, ECOWAS decided to deploy 1,600 of its troops, known as ECOMOG, to the borders between Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia as an interposing and peacekeeping force. But Guinea is now rejecting the concept of these troops as an interposing force, instead insisting they be called "an intervention force, to keep the Liberian aggressors away." The joint visit last week by French Minister of Co-operation, Charles Josselin, and British Secretary for International Development, Clare Short, had little influence on Conakry's position.

Hadja Mahawa Bangoura, the Assistant Minister to the Guinean President in Charge of Foreign Affairs, met last Thursday with foreign diplomats in Conakry and asked that "their respective countries support Guinea in its efforts to restore peace to the subregion." - The return of peace will necessarily depend on the neutralisation of Charles Taylor, the present head of Liberia, and his band of rebels, who are sowing death and destruction all through Guinea's south, and all over the Mano River Union countries, he said. The Guinean minister also requested that the "arms embargo with Liberia voted in by the United Nations Security Council be observed, and that it be expanded to all commerce in wood and rubber, which are Liberia's main exports."

According to western sources, trade in teak alone fetches Liberia about 60 million dollars per year through the operations of a subsidiary of the French group Bollore, which operates there. Guinea has asked the international community to help it manage the humanitarian crisis posed by the refugees stuck on a strip of Guinean land squeezed between Liberia and Sierra Leone "before it's too late". However, Guinean president Lansana Conté told the visiting French and British ministers that "the refugee issue is a false problem. These are RUF (Revolutionary United Front) rebels supported by Taylor, who are attacking Guinea," he maintained.

Josselin said that his brief stay in the war-ravaged town of Guéckédou was instructive. "First of all, I was able to see the destruction myself. I was especially impressed by the survivors, who are extremely alive and energetic. ... However, it is necessary that the refugee question be considered in a broader framework than simply that of restoring peace," he declared.

Approximately two weeks ago, the Guinean government gave the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) an ultimatum to clear the narrow Guéckédou strip, commonly known as the Parrot's Beak. Today, only about half of the former 140,000 refugees previously living there remain. The UNHCR office in Guéckédou says that "sixty thousand refugees are presently stuck on the Parrot's Beak." This is the result of having relocated 20,000 refugees from the Kapkama refugee camp in Kissidougou, 26,000 from the Kountia camp, and 24,000 from Boreyah.

The remaining refugees who do not remain on Parrot's Beak have undertaken the perilous task of returning to Sierra Leone, where refugees are often ensnared in traps set in RUF-controlled zones. The liberation of the town of Guéckédou was no easy feat. Guéckédou was under siege during several weeks after the national army split with those who presented themselves as members of ULIMO (United Liberian Liberation Movement) to the broadcast and print press when they toured this ravaged corner. Today, the town is free, but only after intense bombing raids by the Guinean air force. Even the town's 116-bed, 86-employee hospital did not escape fire. Everything was destroyed.

Several days ago, the military prefect of Guéckédou appealed to the authorities to address the issue of lack of water and electricity in the town. However, he reassured residents that security was "guaranteed for 50 kilometres all along the border" and asked people to return to the centre of the city. During the French and British ministers' visit, the people of the town were just beginning to emerge from their shell-shock. Some market stalls had even begun appearing. The Liberian and Guinean presidents were not able to meet during the last ECOWAS summit in Abuja, Nigeria, a fact that does not bode well for the rapid restoration of peace in the area.

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