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Guinea Army Chief: Military Neutral in Coming Election

Guinea's army chief says the military will stay neutral during next month's presidential election, which is intended to restore civilian rule.

Colonel Nouhou Thiam made the pledge during a meeting with political leaders late Wednesday. He said his forces would defend the country from any elements that try to disrupt the June 27 vote.

Officials hope the election will be the West African nation's first free and fair vote since independence in 1958.

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

His successor, Sekouba Konate, set up the current transitional government. General Konate and other interim leaders are not eligible to run in the election.

Campaigning for the presidential election began on Monday. Some 124 political parties are expected to participate in the poll, but only a few candidates are seen as true contenders for the top post.

These include Alpha Conde – a longtime opposition figure who has run for president twice before – and former prime ministers Cellou Dalein Diallo and Sidya Toure.

Each enjoys a substantial base of support in a different region and among a particular ethnic group.

Before Guinea can hold the election, a new draft constitution must be adopted. Political leaders have said that may be done by decree, as the country currently does not have a parliament.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.