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Sierra Leone Watchful of Guinea Unrest

  • Fid Thompson

As Guinea declares a state of emergency in the wake of post-election violence, Sierra Leone's Office of National Security says it has upped security and is monitoring the situation.

While Sierra Leone has seen nothing like the scale of violence in Guinea over the past two days, security agents here are wary of the potential for unrest to spill over its borders.

Yesterday the head of Guinea's armed forces declared a state of emergency until the country's Supreme Court can verify the election outcome.

Sierra Leone's deputy National Security Coordinator Christopher John says the country is watching developments across the border closely.

"We are very much concerned because of the proximity, the neighborliness and we all work together in the Mano River. Any violence occurring in Guinea is of grave concern to us because of our bilateral relations, both economic, social and the politics that are across the borders," he said.

In anticipation of potential unrest during Guinea's election, Sierra Leone sent 350 military and police personnel to border areas ahead of Sunday's poll.

But it was deep inside Sierra Leone's borders, in the eastern town of Kenema, where Guinean supporters of the two main candidates came to blows after preliminary results from Guinea declared long-time opposition candidate, Alpha Condé, the winner.

Sierra Leonean police arrested a total of 58 people from both sides.

John says while there is no military threat, the main concern is the potential for refugees to cross into Sierra Leone should the violence escalate. He says the National Security Council has contingency plans in place to respond.

Guinea's border wraps around Sierra Leone's northern and eastern limits and many Guineans from both the Fula and Mandingo ethnic groups call Sierra Leone home.

But John says clashes between the two ethnic groups in Kenema over the past two days were isolated incidents that are now under control.

"So the issue out in Kenema is one of those issues," he said. "You know the Guinea thing is fraught with ethnicity and right across the border you have all these tribes here. They are Guineans, we respect them for what they believe in, but there might have been some provocation from either party, but that is an isolated issue."

Sierra Leone has made significant progress towards stability after ending a long civil war in 2002. Five years later, the country saw the peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another.

While Guinea struggles to pull off its first democratic elections, Sierra Leoneans are thinking ahead to their own. Sierra Leone's presidential elections in 2012 are widely seen as the country's final test on the road to peace.