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US Considers Financial Sanctions Against Guinea

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A senior State Department official said Friday the Obama administration is considering financial sanctions against Guinea's military rulers to try to prompt junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara to step aside and allow free elections. International pressure on Guinea's military government has been building since security forces killed more than 150 opposition protesters in late September.

The Obama administration imposed U.S. travel restrictions on members of Guinea's military leadership and key supporters earlier this week. And a senior State Department official says the United States may follow the African Union in imposing targeted financial sanctions against key officials in Conakry in an effort to help move the troubled African state toward free elections.

The comments came from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs William Fitzgerald, who has played a lead role in U.S. diplomacy on Guinea since the military attack on protesters in Conakry September 28th that drew international condemnation.

Fitzgerald was sent to the Guinean capital days after what he described as the "massacre" of opposition demonstrators to express U.S. outrage over the killings and reported sexual assaults by troops, and to demand that Captain Camara adhere to a pledge made early this year to step down in favor of an elected government.

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The opposition crowd had turned out at the rally at Conakry's main stadium to protest suggestions by Captain Camara that he would run for president in elections planned for January.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Fitzgerald, in a Washington press briefing, said he believes the attack was an effort by the government to intimidate the opposition even though Captain Camara told him in Conakry he did not order the bloody crackdown.

"I told him quite frankly, I said Mr. President, that doesn't work. You are the head of the junta. You call yourself the commander in chief of the armed forces and yet you did nothing to stop it. You were unable to stop it. The responsibility rests with you. The buck stops with you, Mr. President, whether like it or not. You have explaining to do to the international community," he said.

Fitzgerald said the United States imposed the travel curbs, and is considering the financial sanctions, to show that impunity in unacceptable in Guinea and elsewhere.

He said the United States is working with others in support of the early convening of a U.N. commission of inquiry on the September 28 attack, and backing African mediation led by Burkina Faso President Blasé Compaore aimed at moving Guinea to civilian rule through elections.

He said it if Captain Camara stood for election in January, it would be difficult to see how such a vote could be credible or bring normalization of ties between Guinea, its neighbors, and the international community.

"We believe, the U.S. government believes, that the Guineans now have the right, and really merit the opportunity, to have a democratic election," said Fitzgerald. "The 50 years of authoritarian rule has been debilitating to the country."

"Money that went to the armed forces that could have been or should have been spent on health and education, social services, was basically squandered. In any case the time is right now for democracy, for the people of of Guinea to get the elections they were hoping for," he added.

Under questioning, Fitzgerald expressed concern about continued Chinese investment in Guinea following the September 28 violence, saying the fact Beijing supports the military government and accepts it as legitimate is "very difficult." At the same time, he noted that China did not block the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of the killing of opposition protesters or the move to set up an inquiry commission.