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Guinea Soldiers Hold Paymaster in Mutiny

Junior military officers in Guinea, angry over unpaid wages are holding the army's paymaster hostage. Ricci Shryock reports from Dakar the mutiny was sparked by the firing of Guinea's prime minister last week.

In Guinea's capital Conakry, most of the gas stations were closed and people were staying home, after soldiers continued to riot and fire their weapons in the air, says Taibou Diallo, a union leader in the West African country.

Diallo says she could hear shots in the morning, but late in the day the shooting appeared to calm.

Late Monday a car carrying a military official in charge of army finances, Mamadou Korka Diallo, was fired on by protesting soldiers and Diallo and his bodyguard are said to have been injured. Soldiers seized Diallo according to witnesses.

The junior officers are reacting to last week's surprise firing of Prime Minister Lansana Kouyate. President Lansana Conte fired Kouyate in a presidential decree read over state television.

Kouyate had promised to secure years of back pay for the soldiers.

After union-lead riots against President Conte early last year left more than 100 people dead, he appointed Kouyate as prime minister as part of a deal to end the protests. Kouyate was backed by Guinea's unions and the international community.

President Conte named a member of his own party, Ahmed Tidiane Soure as the new prime minister.

A West Africa researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, Dustin Sharp speaking from Burkina Faso, said the military's discontent has been on the rise.

"Soldiers in Guinea have long benefited from rice subsidies, and a couple of months ago those were drastically cut," Sharp said. "So I think we can say that soldiers are now feeling the pinch due to rising commodities prices. So that has increased their discontent."

Sharp adds that much of the Guinea population is suffering from poverty, but the soldiers pose a threat to the country's safety.

"All groups in Guinea, be it teachers, judges, doctors are suffering. And what makes the army different of course is that they have AK-47s and the teachers do not," Sharp said. "So that makes them very dangerous."

He adds the government's failure to punish the military for violent outbursts has led to what he calls a sense of untouchability among some of the officers.

Mineral-rich Guinea holds more than a third of the world's reserves of bauxite, the mineral used to make aluminum. But its general population is continually ranked as one of the poorest in the world.