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Guinea, Guinea Bissau Alliance Plays Role in Union Conflict


Guinea's President Lansana Conte has been getting help and advice from the government of neighboring Guinea Bissau to put an end to union-led protests. Union leaders in Guinea are threatening to resume a nationwide strike if a new prime minister is not named this week. Kari Barber reports from the VOA regional bureau in Dakar.

Mr. Conte, who has often rejected outside involvement in Guinea, has refused ECOWAS offers to allow regional mediators to help resolve the country's conflict. But he held recent meetings with Guinea Bissau's President Joao Bernardo Vieira in Conakry.

London-based analyst Richard Reeve with the Royal Institute of International Affairs says rejecting outside involvement, even the help of neighboring countries, is typical of Mr. Conte's government, which has few allies. Reeve says Mr. Vieira is an exception.

The two men have had a long relationship going back to when Mr. Conte supported Mr. Vieira in his bid to gain independence from Portugal.

"Vieira is Conte's closest regional ally, and even more so, Conte is Vieira's closest regional ally," he noted. "Neither man is exactly isolated in the region, but they do have a history going back to the mid '60s working together on liberation struggles and did rely on each other to a degree on security cooperation."

During the strikes in Guinea, which left scores of protesters dead, many reported seeing Portuguese-speaking troops from Guinea Bissau operating in Guinea. Guinea Bissau has denied these reports.

Reeve says Guinea Bissau, one of the poorest nations in the world, has little to offer Guinea so sending troops would be a symbolic gesture.

"Even if people were sent it would be simply a sign of cooperation on the part of the two regimes, rather than some kind of crucial prop to Conte," he added.

Advisors to the two men say Mr. Conte called Mr. Vieira at the height of protests, and that he suggested accepting the nomination of a new prime minister. This was promised in an agreement to suspend the strike last month, but not yet implemented.

Union leaders are now threatening to resume protests if Mr. Conte does not name a prime minister this week. They are also angry that he has been making key nominations to state entities and embassies in recent days, without waiting for a new national unity government to do this.

Reeve says the decision to name a new prime minister will be difficult, and Mr. Conte is likely to delay his announcement as long as possible.

"Conte is not very good at modifying his behavior to suit the situation," he explained. "Whether he understands the urgency in the situation, I do not know."

Reeve says in the past Mr. Conte has taken months to make decisions on crucial matters such as this.

Reeve says other agreements to end the strike included that Guinea stop exporting food, but he says that is not likely to be enacted. He says most exports are cash crops and not foods people in the country, suffering from inflated rice prices, would be able to eat.

The strike in Guinea began in early January amid unrest over soaring rice and gasoline prices and deteriorating government services.

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