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Guinean Soldiers Fire Shots Over Pay Disputes


Gunfire heard overnight across Guinea ended without external intervention. Witnesses say the gunfire came from soldiers agitating for unpaid back wages. Naomi Schwarz has more on the story from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

Shots were heard in Guinea's capital, Conakry, late Wednesday and they continued through the night until the early morning hours. They came from a military camp, Alfa Yaya Diallo, just south of the capital. Shots were also heard in the interior of the country, at the regional cities of Kindia and Labé.

There was no information about victims, and eyewitness reports indicate that the shooters, all soldiers, ceased fire without any outside intervention.

Analyst with British research organization Chatham House, Alex Vines, says this is not the first such violent display from angry soldiers in Guinea.

"The issue seems to be that they were in dispute about salary increases and the payment of arrears," he said. "This has happened before in Guinea and is reflective of the very difficult financial situation that everyone finds themselves in."

Military sources told French media the soldiers are protesting more than $60,000 of back wages they say have been unpaid since 1996.

But Vines says the shooting is more worrying than past incidents, because of the current political and economic climate in Guinea.

In January, union leaders called a nationwide strike. They said President Lansana Conté's declining health made him unable to lead the country effectively. They called for the appointment of an independent prime minister with a strong mandate to institute reforms.

The protests turned bloody when Mr. Conté used the military to suppress the protests. But the strike continued, and only ended in late February, when Mr. Conté appointed Lansana Kouyate as prime minister, from a list of candidates proposed by civil society leaders.

But Vines says Guinea is not out of the woods yet.

"The new prime minister has got a very tough task on his hands," he said. "The incident with the soldiers is an indication of the challenges he has. The economy in Guinea is underperforming badly, despite the high level of commodities. It is a colossal task to try to reform government structures in Guinea."

And in the meantime, Guinea is still reeling from the aftermath of the violent crackdown of the protests. According to a probe by Guinean authorities, 137 people, mostly civilians, were killed. Nearly 1,700 were injured

Alex Vines says this all plays a part in the overnight shooting.

"It just confirms what everybody knew that the military had acted with disproportionate force to demonstrators and this in turn will not please the military," he added. "Which is why, an incident like the one with restive soldiers over pay increases and arrears feeds into the sense of insecurity and unpredictability that is in Guinea at the moment."

Vines says, hanging over everything, is the worsening medical condition of Mr. Conté, and the threat of further instability over succession when he dies.

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