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Negotiations Begin in Guinea After Weeklong Riots Begin to Calm

Guinea military officials pleaded with young, rioting soldiers to stop this week's violence, which has left dozens injured. On Friday morning, the capital Conakry was calm as high-ranking officials said they were working to negotiate with the mutinous soldiers. For VOA, Ricci Shryock has more from Dakar.

Presidential guards were posted along strategic points in the Guinea capital Conakry Friday morning, such as the November 8 bridge, leading into the city, says local journalist Maseco Conde.

On Thursday Guinea's military had a standoff with young mutinous soldiers on the bridge. Both sides fired shots into the air, but not at each other. Conde says the capital was calm the next day, but gas stations and shops remained closed in fear of further violence and looting.

Since Monday, young officers in the Guinea military, angry over unpaid wages, have been rioting. At least one person has died and more than a dozen were wounded in the violence.

The violence began after last week's surprise dismissal of prime minister Lansana Kouyate. President Lansana Conte fired Kouyate in a presidential decree read over state television last Friday.

Kouyate was appointed prime minister early last year after riots against President Conte left more than 100 people dead. When he was appointed, the former prime minister said he would increase military salaries. Some soldiers say they have not been paid since 1996.

On Tuesday new prime minister, Ahmed Tidiane Souare, a member of Conte's party, said he would begin to pay the soldiers the equivalent of $1100 US dollars at the end of this month.

President Conte also fired the defense minister on Tuesday as part of negotiations with the soldiers.

But the violence continued on Thursday, as some soldiers demanded the dismissal of more top-ranking army officials.

Journalist Conde says it is just a small group of about 300 soldiers who are asking for the additional dismissals.

Conde says Army Chief, Brigadier-General Diarra Camara, appeared on state television Thursday to say that negotiations are open, and to plead with the soldiers to stop the violence while they try to reach an agreement.

West African researcher for the New York-based group Human Rights Watch, Dustin Sharp speaking from Burkina Faso, says a division between young and old in Guinea's military has been brewing for years.

"The generational divisions within the army are probably more pronounced than the ethnic divisions," Sharp said. "In general, you have a group of young officers that are rising up, are frustrated by the fact that they feel that the sort of fat cat officers at the top are not opening up the way for new promotions, and the people at the top, at least in the eyes of the young officers, are living handsomely while they feel like they are suffering."

Sharp adds riots within the Guinea military are nothing new, and the government should hold the violent officers accountable. Souare has already promised that no mutineers in this most recent incident will be punished.

"The indiscipline that we have seen in Guinea's army this week, firing in the air and taking a high level military commander hostage, it is due at least in part to the government's repeated refusal over the years to hold them responsible for crimes they have committed. The government's failure to pursue those who have committed crimes is itself a threat to the government's own stability," Sharp said.

Sharp adds that past military riots have usually been rooted in money, but some of his sources say this division between young and old could eventually materialize into a concrete movement.

The West African country is home to mineral wealth. It holds more than a third of the world's known reserves of bauxite, but most of its citizens live in poverty.