Guinea's army will support whoever wins next month's presidential election and anyone trying to derail the vote will be crushed, the head of the West African country's armed forces said.
A transitional government overseen by a military leader, is preparing for a June 27 election some fear could turn violent but which marks the top bauxite exporter's best chance at emerging from decades of harsh authoritarian rule.
"There should be no disruption, no violence. In the case of a problem, we will subdue it," Colonel Nouhou Thiam, chief of Guinea's armed forces, said late on Wednesday during a meeting with political leaders. "The army will be at the disposal of the candidate who wins the elections."
General Sekouba Konate, interim head of the military junta that seized power in a 2008 coup, this week set up a special elections security unit made up of police and soldiers.
Soldiers from West African regional bloc ECOWAS will also be on the ground during the vote, according to the United Nations.
Konate took power in Guinea after former junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara was shot in the head by a would-be assassin in December and evacuated for treatment.
Known as "El Tigre" for his ferocity in tackling past rebellions on Guinea's border with Liberia, Konate set up the transitional government charged with holding elections and has vowed not to let the June 27 date slip.
Second round needed?
Prime Minister Jean-Marie Dore has said supporters of Camara, who is now convalescing in Burkina Faso, are secretly plotting his return. Observers are also concerned the election could be a trigger for simmering ethnic tensions.
"For now, the army has remained out of the political process," a diplomat who follows Guinean politics said.
"The key thing will be during campaigning, and making sure candidates don't escalate regional and ethnic disputes that reverberate within the army."
Camara, from Guinea's Forestiere region which is only rarely represented in power, drew widespread international condemnation before his injury after security forces killed more than 150 demonstrators protesting in September against his refusal to guarantee that he would not stand in elections.
Some 20 candidates are now expected to stand in the June 27 election, according to a source close to the Supreme Court charged with registering candidates.
"During the entire process of the transition, including the election of June 27, I guarantee the defence and security forces will remain neutral," Thiam said.
The diplomat warned that a second round of voting was likely as the number of candidates meant a straight majority in the first round was improbable, and tension could escalate.
The military seized power in December 2008 after the death of strongman President Lansana Conte, who had ruled the country since 1984. Guinea has blamed political turmoil for part of a 15 percent decline in output of aluminium ore bauxite in 2009.
The country hosts operations of huge miners such as RUSAL and Rio Tinto. Brazilian mining giant Vale last month announced a $2.5 billion joint-venture deal with BSG Resources in Guinea.
ReutersLast Mod: 21 Mayıs 2010, 10:08