Angry soldiers embark on rampage in Guinea

Time of article published May 28, 2008

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Conakry - Guinean troops went on the rampage in the capital Conakry, pillaging shops, firing in the air and robbing civilians, leaving dozens injured, hospital and other sources said on Wednesday.

It was the latest incident involving soldiers angered by non-payment of long-overdue wages, despite a government promise on Tuesday to pay the arrears, some of which go back to 1996.

"We admitted more than 20 people with bullet wounds this morning," an official at the capital's main Donka hospital overnight.

Local residents contacted by telephone said dozens of people had been wounded by stray bullets in the districts of Enco 5, Matoto and Yimbaya overnight.

The soldiers had looted food shops and other stores, and held up private cars and taxis to rob the occupants. Drivers quickly abandoned the streets, and it was hours before the injured could be taken to hospital.

An army officer admitted that the troops were "out of control" and were "filling their pockets".

The government said in a statement on Tuesday that "following the demands formulated by the soldiers", it would pay out five million Guinean francs (about $1 200) to each in stages, with the first million coming before the end of the month.

Soldiers' protests on Monday saw at least one person killed and eight - including a high-ranking army officer - wounded by stray bullets in the Conakry area and at Kindia, 130km east of the capital.

The soldiers have also captured Guinea's deputy chief-of-staff, General Mamadou Sampil, and held him since Monday afternoon at the country's largest military base, Alfa Yaya Diallo, near the capital's international airport.

Major Korka Diallo, who is in charge of military finances, and two other officers wounded Monday were flown to Morocco for treatment, military sources said on Wednesday.

The soldiers' protests came a year after similar mutinies in several towns across Guinea over the same issue, when at least eight people died and dozens more were injured by stray bullets.

On Tuesday, President Lansana Conte, who has ruled the West African nation since 1984, sacked his defence minister, Mamadou Bailo Diallo, in a repeat of his response last year.

Last week Conte dismissed prime minister Lansana Kouyate, a compromise candidate put forward under a deal to end a general strike and massive protests in 2007, and replaced him with his confidant Ahmed Tidiane Souare.

The dismissal of Kouyate was one of the soldiers' grievances, as they said they had nobody to address their complaints to since his departure. - Sapa-AFP

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