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West African Leaders Consider Sanctioning Guinea Military

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West African leaders meet in Nigeria Saturday to consider sanctions against Guinea's military government following last month's killing of opposition demonstrators. Violence in Guinea threatens regional stability.

Leaders from the Economic Community of West African States meet in Abuja to consider African Union sanctions against Guinea's military government and the recommendations of the International Contact Group.

That group wants an international inquiry into the violence of September 28. Troops opened fire on demonstrators protesting the expected presidential candidacy of military ruler Captain Moussa Camara. Human rights groups say at least 157 people died. The military government says 57 people were killed, most in the crush of people fleeing the main sports stadium.

ECOWAS is trying to resolve the crisis, fearing that the longer Guinea's instability continues, the greater the threat to regional stability.

Mohamed Ibn Chambas is ECOWAS executive secretary.

"We do not wish to see the situation in Guinea deteriorate to a point where it begins to undermine the fragile peace in Liberia and Sierra Leone, in Cote d'Ivoire, in Guinea Bissau," said Mohamed Ibn Chambas. "And that is why we have to be pro-active and take steps that will prevent the situation in Guinea from further deteriorating."

Ivory Coast is preparing for elections next month to reunify a country split by civil war. Guinea Bissau just elected a new president following the assassination of its long-time leader. Sierra Leone and Liberia are still recovering from their own long conflicts.

"Whatever happens in your neighbor's country must have some direct or indirect effect," said David Targbeh.

Liberian David Targbeh fears an influx of Guinean refugees.

"The first thing is the problem of the refugees, people running into these countries," he said. "Liberia coming out of war, we don't have the resources to accommodate a huge group of refugees coming from Guinea. This would be an economic problem for Liberia as a country."

Liberian Adda Kerkulah says if Captain Camara runs for president and is elected in a vote that is not fair, the violence that follows could cross into her country.

"So if something like that happens again it is going to be really terrible for all of us here," said Adda Kerkulah. "I am really very afraid that there may be a spill-over, something that we are not prepared for."

Guinean businessman Saudo Fofana says his aunt was killed in last month's violence.

"I really want democratic government to be settled in Guinea, and I am appealing to the international community to come to Guinea's rescue and really try by all means and get rid of the soldiers in Guinea and elect a democratic president," said Saudo Fofana.

Since the violence, the military government has offered to join with political opponents.

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In a statement read on national television, the ruling council says Captain Camara is again calling on Guinea's political leaders to put in place a transitional government as soon as possible. The military says only this can guarantee stability in so sensitive a period.

But political leaders say the violent repression of dissent makes internal dialogue impossible. Mouctar Diallo heads the New Forces of Democracy party.

Diallo says sanctions are logical because if the international community does nothing, that will encourage the impunity of a deadly, dictatorial government and cause instability.

Corinne Dufka heads West Africa operations for Human Rights Watch.

"The international community has spent billions of dollars helping to put Sierra Leone and Liberia back together, moving them from failed states to proper states based on the rule of law," said Corinne Dufka. "Given all of the ethnic and tribal links between Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea given the tendency of arms and the movement of former combatants across the border, there is an absolute risk of having the stability of Sierra Leone and Liberia being undermined by this."

The International Criminal Court has opened a preliminary investigation to determine if Guinea's military committed war crimes during the violence.

The African Union says it will sanction Captain Camara this month unless he makes clear that he will not run for president in elections scheduled for January.