CONAKRY, Guinea — A military hard-liner who was among the most vocal supporters of Guinea’s exiled coup leader and who chartered a private plane to try to force him to return to Guinea was arrested overnight Saturday, according to two sources close to the junta.
Col. Moussa Keita was taken into custody and being held at a prison in the capital, a retired African diplomat who is close to the junta and a military official said. Both requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Keita’s arrest was the latest sign that the balance of power within the military has shifted in favor of officers willing to go ahead with a transition to civilian rule.
Keita was part of a clique of officers that remained steadfastly loyal to Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara, who led a 2008 coup and who rallied for him to return even as Franceand other African nations warned that his return could spark civil war.
Camara was forced to leave the country for emergency surgery last month after being shot in the head by a former aide. In his absence, his No. 2, Gen. Sekouba Konate, began meeting with the country’s opposition to negotiate a return to democracy.
Konate flew to neighboring Burkina Faso earlier this month to pressure the convalescing military ruler to agree to a voluntary exile and to sign off on a six-month transition to civilian rule. Keita and other junta officials that had profited from their relationship with Camara were deeply unsettled and they chartered a private jet to Burkina Faso, vowing not to return to Guinea unless the plane was carrying their wounded leader.
Keita openly wept at a press conference in Ouagadougou earlier this month in which Camara announced that he would not be returning to Guinea and gave his go-ahead to the transfer of power. Konate returned to Guinea and immediately appointed a civilian prime minister who is charged with putting together a 30-member government, including 10 people from the junta.
Keita’s arrest comes amid worry that Camara was trying to influence the composition of the fledgling civilian government by making telephone calls to supporters in Conakry from his sick bed in Ouagadougou, the Burkina capital.
On Tuesday, veteran opposition leader Jean-Marie Dore was sworn in as prime minister of an interim government which will oversee preparations for elections to be held within six months.
But there was tension in Conakry over the composition of the new government, with opposition leaders saying it would not be appropriate for any military member to be appointed if they are currently on a U.N. or African Union sanctions list. Nearly all the members of the junta – which dubs itself the National Council for Democracy and Development, or CNDD – are on the sanctions list following an army-led massacre of civilians last September.
At least 156 people were killed when Camara’s security forces opened fire on demonstrators that had gathered to demand an end to military rule on Sept. 28.
“There is a great deal of pressure on Jean Marie (Dore) to appoint members of the CNDD to the new government – but he hasn’t given in,” said Mamadou Bah Baadikko, the president of Union for the Forces of Democracy, an opposition party. “I don’t know of a single member of the CNDD that is not on the sanctions list,” he added.
Idrissa Cherif, the junta’s information minister who until recently served as the coup leader’s personal spokesman, said that civilian leaders should be more flexible.
“We should look at people and ask, ‘Has their behavior changed?’ There needs to be forgiveness,” Cherif told the AP by telephone late Saturday. “For the sake of peace, for the sake of serenity, for the sake of cohesion, we need to avoid excluding people. As it will only cause problems,” he said.