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Watchdog Groups Call for Reform, Accountability in Guinean Military

Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the killing of more than 150 opposition demonstrators by Guinea security forces in Conakry. No one has been brought to justice for these crimes. International watchdog groups say dismantling this culture of impunity and reforming the military should be top priority for Guinea's next president.

More than 100 women were also sexually assaulted in the military attack on an opposition protest. The incident sparked international investigations but the perpetrators are still at large.

Human Rights Watch's Senior West Africa Researcher, Corinne Dufka, said this pattern of abuse and impunity has characterized Guinea's security forces for decades.

"The Guinean military has a history of engaging in very serious human rights abuses and common crime committed against ordinary Guineans. The new government, once elected, must begin by addressing these very serious patterns of abuses and the impunity that they enjoy by holding accountable those responsible for the 2009 violence," Dufka said.

Guinea is in the middle of a landmark presidential poll meant to restore the country to civilian rule after a military coup almost two years ago.

International Crisis Group West Africa Project Director Richard Moncrief says the success of any democratic, civilian government depends on a complete overhaul of Guinea's notoriously undisciplined and disorganized military. "Assuming that the current period of tension is resolved in a satisfactory way and that we get a civilian president, that president has to initiate a major reform of the armed forces. It is the single most important thing he will do in his first couple of years in office, and it will help secure democratic rule," he said.

The military seized power in Guinea in December 2008, after the death of long-time president Lansana Conte. Original junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara went into exile after being shot and wounded by an aide late last year.

Moncrieff says failure to reform the military post-election could lead to further political instability, perhaps even another coup. "Dadis Camara, the former junta leader, emerged out of the chaos within the army that was the case in the last couple of years of Conte's rule. The consequence of an unreformed army is another chaotic military junta and history shows that very clearly," he said.

During the past decade, he says previous attempts at reform have failed and waves of disorganized recruitment have swelled the military's ranks. The quality of training, equipment and living conditions has deteriorated, leading some soldiers to turn to criminal activities, like extortion, drug trafficking or petty crime.

In a report issued earlier this month, International Crisis Group called for a reduction in the military's numbers and greater financial transparency. The reforms would be civilian-led, but Moncrieff says their success will depend on cooperation from senior military officials.

Any reform of the military in Guinea is contingent on a successfully completed presidential poll.

Guinea held the first round of voting on June 27th, but the second round has already been pushed back once. October 10th has been proposed as a poll date for the run-off but it has not been confirmed.

Moncrieff says the military, which has so far stayed out of the electoral process, is growing restless with continued delays. "Opinions are divided in the army. If things really go wrong, if the elections do not happen and the infighting continues, it does raise the risk of the military wanting to intervene again. There is a history of military intervention in politics in Guinea going back to the arrival of Conte in the middle of the 1980s and even before. There simply is not a culture of disciplined obedience to civilian rule. That is something that is going to need to be imposed and built up over the years," he said.

Moncrieff says it is vital that the international community remain engaged in Guinea after the elections to ensure stability in the country and the region.