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African Union Will Sanction Guinea Unless Elections Held Quickly

The African Union says Guinea's military rulers will face international sanctions if they go back on a promise to hold elections within six months. West African leaders plan to meet in Nigeria Saturday to discuss their response to the coup.

African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping met with coup leaders following last month's funeral for long-time Guinean president Lansana Conte.

Army Captain Moussa Camara launched his coup within hours of Conte's death, promising elections in two years and ultimately forcing civilian leaders to yield power.

Ping says he told Captain Camara that two years is too long. "I told him that you said two years," he said. "I said we can't accept two years. And he said, 'Well, I am ready to go for six months if you want, provided that things go well.'"

In a meeting with reporters in Addis Ababa Friday, Ping said Captain Camara told him that he would reinstate Guinea's previous constitutional limit of two, five-year presidential terms, repealing the seven-year, unlimited terms imposed by President Conte.

With the promise that none of the coup leaders would run for office, Ping said he told Captain Camara that the African Union would help them restore democracy if they kept their word.

"We told them that we are going to monitor to see if you will respect your commitment, and we are ready to help you to bring back a constitutional order," he said. "Otherwise you will face sanctions."

The African Union has already suspended Guinea. The United Nations, the United States, and the European Union have all condemned the coup and are calling for a quick return to civilian rule.

Regional leaders from the Economic Community of West African States meet in Nigeria Saturday to discuss their response to Guinea's coup. Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua called the special meeting to consider sanctions against Captain Camara's ruling council.

But there are divisions within the alliance about how best to address the military take-over.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade says coup leaders deserve international support because they are promising to hold free and fair elections. He says Captain Camara is an honest young man who took power to fill a dangerous vacuum.

Former Nigerian leader Ibrahim Babangida says the coup was timely and patriotic. Babangida, who took power in his own coup in 1985, says Guinea was polarized before the military saved the country. He told Nigerian television that instead of criticizing the new military leaders, the international community should help them get the country back on its feet.

Babangida went to Guinea as President Yar'adua's envoy. When told that Nigeria's foreign affairs minister said Abuja will not recognize Conakry's military regime, Babangida told Nigerian television that the minister has no clue about what is happening on the ground in Guinea.

ECOWAS Executive Secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas says the regional alliance remains opposed to military take-overs and will consider sanctions against Guinea.

Ping says the African Union is determined to impose coordinated sanctions against Captain Camara's military government if it does not move quickly toward elections.

"We are trying to harmonize our position with the international community to strengthen our threat," he said.

Guinea's military leaders have consolidated power by taking charge of the national treasury, appointing a civilian prime minister, and forcing the retirement of senior military officers who opposed them. They have arrested the former armed forces chief of staff and the former chief of the navy.