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Guinea Military Pledges Neutrality in Next Month's Vote

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

Army Colonel Nouhou Thiam, who has been put in charge of election security, addressed political leaders late Wednesday.

He says this is an army that is here to defend the nation and democratic institutions, and not one that will create a cult of personality. He says it is an army that will no longer be manipulated and from now on is at the service of its country and its people. I assure, he says, that the Guinean army will be neutral in the elections.

The vote is planned for June 27. On that day, Colonel Thiam said all military members will remain in their camps.

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

Campaigning opened this week amid fears of violence between supporters of opposing political camps ahead of the vote.

Colonel Thiam urged political leaders to keep their supporters calm because, he says, he will not tolerate violence.

Campaigning, he says, does not mean burning cars, engaging in violence or insulting each other. He says we are all Guineans. We should be able to have opposing ideas in the political sphere. But, he says, that does not mean that we should be sworn enemies.

Political leaders said they were reassured by the military chief's statements.

Presidential candidate and former prime minister, Cellou Dalein Diallo, says he has already been asking his supporters to not respond to provocations. He says the general gave good advice. Today, he adds, we may be in different political parties and we may support different leaders, but we should not lose sight of the fact that we are all Guineans.

Sidya Toure, also a presidential candidate and former prime minister, says they do not want militants getting out of hand and taking to the streets as they have in the past.

Toure says we all want peaceful elections. He says it was good to call for calm so early in the campaign instead of waiting until the end when everyone will be heated up. This way, he says, we can try to keep the temperature at a reasonable level.

A military junta seized power in Guinea in December 2008. 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 that is organizing the elections. General Konate and other interim leaders are not eligible to run in the poll.