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Disgruntled Guinea Soldiers Press for Back Pay, Wage Increases

In Guinea, a round of talks between disgruntled soldiers and the country’s president and new defense minister have ended without signs of a breakthrough. The twice-delayed meeting followed more than a week of rioting, looting, and militant protests by troops demanding 100-thousand dollars in salary raises that they say President Lansana Conte promised them 11 years ago. The soldiers, who helped keep President Conte in power during a violent national strike two months ago, demanded that Conte fire his defense minister, his army chief of staff and other top brass. Current Defense Minister Mamadou Bailo Dialo has not disclosed details of yesterday’s negotiations. Guinean-born writer Binta Anne, who works with UNICEF in the United States, says it’s quite likely the troops will be marching through the streets of the capital Conakry in protest once again today unless a solution is reached.

“I just called Conakry and they confirmed the situation. They say today, they’re going to start again,” said Anne.

In late February, after several weeks of protests that spread through Guinea’s major cities and towns, resulting in about 100 deaths, President Conte backed down and appointed a reform-minded prime minister to lower tensions. Yesterday’s talks produced few signs that the financially strapped Conakry government would be able to come up with the funds needed to recover the back pay. Binta Anne says it’s a struggle over budgetary priorities.

“The money’s not available. You know, they used to get so many privileges. The president, Lansana Conte, you know, he’s a soldier, so he used to give all the privileges to the army. And now the new government of Lansana Kouyate, the Prime Minister, is taking the money to use it for other reforms, like education, health care, and now the soldiers are angry,” she said.

Guinea has only had two presidents since winning independence from France in 1958. In 1984, Ahmed Sekou Toure lost power in a coup d’etat to retired general Lansana Conte, who eventually was elected president in 1993 and has won reelection twice since. Guinean-born writer Binta Anne says in critical times, when disputes fail to be resolved, Guinea’s military prevails.

“I know the kind of military we have there. And I think the president is going to have to think twice before getting in trouble with the military. I think the president is going to try to keep his power. He’s going to try to finish this crisis because he knows, if the military isn’t going to support him any more, he’ll not be there. So I think he will take the money, even from education or from health care and other reforms to use it to calm down the military,” she explains.