Guinea coup leader names civilian prime minister

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

CONAKRY, Guinea — Coup leaders in Guinea named a civilian banker as prime minister Tuesday, making good on a key promise a week after seizing power upon the death of the country's longtime dictator. Their choice, Kabine Komara, is a director of the African Export-Import Bank in Cairo, a 14-year-old institution that promotes trade between African states. His selection raises hopes the military junta may also honor other commitments, including holding elections and cracking down on corruption.

This West African nation has an abundance of gold, diamonds, iron, timber and half the world's reserves of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum. But for the past 24 years, Guinea's treasury has been pillaged by officials loyal to the late President Lansana Conte and its people have fallen deeper and deeper into poverty.

Coup leader Capt. Moussa Camara's troops have held raids over the last two days to reclaim government property allegedly stolen by Conte's inner clique. The young and charismatic coup leader has won overwhelming public approval by promising to punish those who stole from the state.

But his welcome by the international community has been less than warm.

The European Union on Tuesday reiterated its condemnation of the coup, urging the junta to hand over executive power to an interim civilian government that will organize elections. The African Union froze Guinea's membership in the continentwide bloc, threatening further sanctions if the junta does not restore constitutional order.

Camara invited foreign diplomats and U.N. representatives to the presidential compound to hear his views Tuesday, but became visibly annoyed when a European ambassador asked him if he can guarantee that no junta members will appear on the presidential ballot he proposes to hold in two years.

"I am a military man — and I don't know how to lie," he retorted. "In the history of coup d'etats, for the first time there was no massacre and the members of the former government were not put in handcuffs and humiliated ... why are you, the European Union, condemning us?"

The junta, which is working hard to win over key regional players, sent a top envoy to meet earlier Tuesday with the president of neighboring Guinea-Bissau. Delegations were also being sent to other neighbors, including Sierra Leone, where Libya's Moammar Gadhafi started a state visit on Tuesday.

Komara was traveling Tuesday to Guinea and not available to comment on his selection, the bank said.

On Monday, dozens of soldiers forced their way into the compound of Mamadou Sylla, a close confident of the late dictator, demanding that he hand over the keys to SUVs allegedly stolen from the government.

Sylla told The Associated Press he gave them keys to six new SUVs. He said his company, Futurelec S.A., had been contracted to provide the military with over 150 cars but did not explain why the cars had not been delivered.

Sylla has been repeatedly accused of corruption, and in late 2006 he was jailed along with a Central Bank official on charges of stealing $3 million by inflating the price of cars supplied to the government.

Conte personally went to the jail to free the men, setting off deadly demonstrations that nearly brought him down and forced him to name a prime minister from a list drawn up by unions and opposition groups.

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Associated Press writers Abou Bakr and Maseco Conde contributed to this report from Conakry, Guinea, and Assimo Balde contributed from Bissau, Guinea-Bissau.

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