Guinea eyes mediator to resolve deadly election row

Foreign Minister Lounceny Fall is pictured in Conakry on October 3, 2009.  By Seyllou Diallo (AFP/File)

Foreign Minister Lounceny Fall is pictured in Conakry on October 3, 2009. By Seyllou Diallo (AFP/File)

ALGIERS (AFP) – The Guinean government is looking for a mediator to resolve a dispute over arrangements for a delayed parliamentary election that has sparked deadly unrest, Foreign Minister Lonseny Fall told AFP.

“We are determined to bring the transition to an end and put in place all the institutions” needed to do so, Fall said in an interview on a visit to Algiers.

“I believe that very soon we will reach a consensus that enables this election to finally take place,” Fall said, adding that a “facilitator” would play a key role in addressing opposition concerns so that the election can go ahead as planned on May 12.

“A solution will be found on this issue,” he insisted.

“Many stages have already been completed” in the reform of the independent national election commission, including changing its president and giving the opposition an equal number of members, the foreign minister said.

Discontent is simmering in Guinea, where violence erupted in late February during an opposition protest calling for transparency in the election. At least eight people were killed in the fighting that ensued.

Among the protesters’ grievances was the selection of South African company Waymark to revise the electoral roll, which opponents of President Alpha Conde suspect of supporting him.

Fall said resolving this last issue simply required “finding a mediator, a facilitator,” without elaborating.

“I think that the negotiations are on track and that soon we will have a solution.”

President Conde has invited the opposition to talks, even as protesters continue to take to the streets demanding a free vote, which was due to have taken place in 2011 and could again be delayed.

Fall’s talks also touched on the decades-old dispute over the Western Sahara, brought into focus by the visit to Algiers of UN peace envoy Christopher Ross.

“We have said that the United Nations must be allowed to continue its work to find a solution to this issue that is poisoning not just the life of the Arab Maghreb Union but also the African Union,” the Guinean foreign minister said.

His comments were a clear swipe at the position of Morocco, which annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975 in a move not recognised by the international community.

Morocco rejects the demand of the pro-independence Polisario Front that the Sahrawi be allowed to decide their own future in a referendum and insists its claim to sovereignty over the territory is non-negotiable.

“We strongly hope the principles of self-determination are respected,” Fall said in Algiers, a staunch supporter of the Polisario.

The Western Sahara dispute has been a persistent irritant to African unity efforts.

The 1982 admission of the Polisario-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic to the African Union’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, prompted Morocco to quit the bloc two years later and it has never rejoined.

Conakry and Algiers also have shared concerns about Mali, which they both border, and Guinea has contributed troops to the 6,300-strong African force in the country.

“We have already sent a company of 140 Guinean soldiers to Mali. It’s possible that we will send more,” Fall said.

France, which currently has 4,000 troops in Mali leading the offensive against Islamist insurgents in the north, is eager to withdraw and see the African force transformed into a larger and better-equipped UN peacekeeping mission.