* Opposition could struggle for united position
* Military could demand Sept. 28 amnesty
By Mark John
DAKAR, Jan 7 (Reuters) - An offer by Guinea's junta to hand power back to a civilian government could avert the risk of new bloodshed in West Africa but the path to stability remains littered with obstacles.
One potential deal-breaker is the prospect that army chiefs implicated in killings of over 150 pro-democracy marchers in a Sept. 28 crackdown will demand an amnesty for their crimes before returning to their barracks.
But there are also doubts over whether the country's untried opposition can rise to the challenge of democratic government in a country with huge mineral wealth but which has seen little but strong-arm military rule in half a century of independence.
"Given the lack of historical precedent for democratic transition in Guinea, it warrants cautious optimism," said Rolake Akinola of Global Risk Analysis of the state broadcast late on Wednesday by interim junta chief Sekouba Konate.
Konate's announcement that the recovery of military leader Moussa Dadis Camara from a Dec. 3 assassination bid would take "time and patience" was the clearest sign that Camara's brief political career since a December 2008 coup could be over.
With the wounded Camara still cloistered in a Moroccan clinic, Konate pledged to work with a unity government led by a prime minister drawn from opposition ranks, and to allow elections to be held on a date determined by that government.
His words will elicit a feeling of "deja vu" among Guineans who recall Camara's broken promises to allow polls, but there are grounds to believe the offer is more credible this time.
With Guinea's neighbours fearing a civil war there could destabilise the entire region, Guinea's junta has been isolated by sanctions ranging from visa bans, bank asset freezes and the threat of international prosecution over the Sept. 28 killings.
And while the volatile Camara craved public attention, Konate is a professional soldier who has not shown any evidence of seeking a frontline political role.
"This is very positive," said Omaru B. Sisay of London-based Exclusive Analysis. "The fact the offer is being made by Konate means the opposition response is likely to be more positive."
With Africa trying to rid itself of the military governments that have dominated much of its post-colonial politics, Konate's pledge will be welcomed across the continent and beyond. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner hailed "a very good surprise".
But the road ahead could be long, with observers warning the transition could take over a year, and even then take place under conditions largely favourable to the army.
The country's opposition parties could struggle to agree on a prime minister that would be acceptable to diverse ethnic groups including the malinke, peul, soussou and smaller minorities from Camara's Forestiere region.
"Opposition cohesion is a problem. They have never had the space within existing power structures," said Akinola.
It is also still not clear what powers Konate is willing to cede to the premier, leaving open the risk of a puppet prime minister that would be at the mercy of the junta.
While Konate himself was not directly implicated by a U.N. report into the Sept. 28 killings, Camara and others in the junta run the risk of international prosecution for what the report described as crimes against humanity.
That leaves Konate open to the threat of a counter-coup from army officers afraid of being brought to justice and could mean he will insist on private assurances from opposition leaders and international players that his soldiers will not be pursued.
Analysts said the time was of the essence, with the risk that Camara could at some point recover and return to upset the transition process if it was not properly underway.
Sisay said Guinea's position as the world's top exporter of the aluminium ore bauxite and its location at the heart of a fragile region could mean that the world turns a blind eye to any local arrangement offering soldiers a degree of impunity.
"But the key stumbling block will be civil society and the unions," said Sisay, warning of public uproar to any overt deal to shield those behind the Sept. 28 violence. (Editing by Giles Elgood)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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