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ECOWAS Demands Civilian-Led Transition or Sanctions on Guinea's Military Rulers

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) says it is working with the Guinean people to ensure that the political transition process there is led by civilians and not the military.

The African Union Monday suspended Guinea and banned it from AU activities until the new military rulers return the country to constitutional order.

ECOWAS Executive Secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas told VOA the sub-region has a zero-tolerance policy on military takeovers and that the new military leaders in Guinea risk sanctions if they do not return the country to civilian rule as quickly as possible.

“We have a policy of zero tolerance for military coup d’états in West Africa. We would like to work with Guinea to ensure that the transition is one that is driven by political parties, civil society, the labor unions, of course with some participation by the military because if we did not do that and if Guinea then finds itself governed by a military regime, of course sanctions would follow, and that would not be in the interest of the sub-region,” he said.

Chambas said ECOWAS does not want a destabilized Guinea to affect countries in the Mano River Union such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Cote D’Ivoire that are recovering from conflicts.

“We would not want anything in that sub-region of West Africa to jeopardize the fragile peace in Liberia, in Sierra Leone, in Guinea Bissau and Cote d’Ivoire. And that’s why ECOWAS is determined to work with the Guinean people to ensure that the transition is not a military-led transition but a civilian transition which can now lead to a new beginning where Guinea can join the rest of West Africa on the path of building democracy and restoring normal good governance on a democratic path,” Chambas said.

Guinea’s constitution stipulates that the speaker of the national assembly would act as interim president until fresh elections can be held within two months.

Chambas said Guinea, a country that has never in its history held transparent, credible elections is still not ready to hold elections in two months as stipulated in the constitution.

“We need to see the current situation as an opportunity for a new beginning in Guinea, for a break with the past, a past which was characterized by dictatorship and a lack of willingness to move toward democratic governance. And that’s where we would like to be able to work with the Guinean people. I must emphasize we want to work with civil society, with the political parties, with the unions, or course with the CNDD (the ruling National Council for Democracy and Development) to ensure that the transition is a civilian-led transition, not a military transition,” he said.

Chambas, whose ECOWAS delegation held meetings over the weekend in Guinea with all parties, said it is totally unacceptable that elections should be held in Guinea in two years as pronounced by the new military rulers.

“There seems to be a consensus in Guinea that the country can go to elections sooner than two years. The country in fact was preparing for legislative elections in May. There is a voter registration exercise which is ongoing now. We hope that it is not disrupted; we hope that it can be continued and completed perhaps in the next month or two. That would be a major step forward. Now once you have the voter registration exercise done, certainly elections can be held much, much sooner than in two years,” he said.

Chambas said ECOWAS is counting on the new military rulers in Guinea to do the right thing otherwise they would face sanctions.

“If the transition ends up to be a purely military government, then there would be no choice for the African Union, there will be no choice for ECOWAS and indeed I must mention the international community but to apply sanctions because the policy now in Africa and West Africa is a zero tolerance for military governments. I think that should be appreciated by all, and especially the Guineans,” Chambas said.

Chambas said the Guinean people are yearning for democracy and that the death of President Lansana Conte provides a good opportunity for the new military regime to construct a democratic future for Guinea.