Guinea

Guinea: Questions over how government will meet promises to army

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CONAKRY, 18 May 2007 (IRIN) - Government officials say they might not be able to keep promises made earlier this week by the country's President Lansana Conte to mutinous soldiers who had been looting towns around the country and terrorizing civilians.

"Getting the money to keep the promises is our primary preoccupation for the stability of the country," a senior government official who was not authorised to speak on the record said on Friday. "We are all asking how we can quickly find salaries for these soldiers."

The soldiers only agreed to return to their barracks after a two week uprising when President Lansana Conte sacked unpopular senior officers and promised to promote thousands of ordinary troops. He also promised the government would provide new uniforms, and said it would address salary arrears going back 11 years.

Conte, a former military officer himself, acknowledged the soldiers claim that the government owes some 311 billion Guinea francs (US $91.6 million). The army was seen as central to Conte's withstanding weeks of nationwide demonstrations earlier this year by ordinary Guineans calling for an end to his 24-year rule.

For many Guineans, the president has made empty promises and the army could revolt again at any moment. "We not optimistic that this thing has ended," said Abdou Kader Bangura, an unemployed paralegal currently selling telephone cards in Conakry. "It is not at all clear how the government will be able to give the soldiers what they are demanding."

The senior government official IRIN spoke with said the government's new financial burden comes at a time when its revenue is at an all time low. Guinea is rich in precious metals and minerals, but some international mining companies have been wary of Guinea since January when concurrent strikes and civil unrest paralysed the country. http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=64535

"There is some money coming in from the International Monetary Fund [IMF] and the European Union but it is earmarked for basic infrastructure," said the government official.

Last December the EU agreed to unfreeze 117 million euros ($158 million) - the ninth tranche of Guinea's European Development Fund money, but the government pledged to use most of the money to improve the poor supply of water and electricity to towns around the country. http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=70018

"If the money were now to be redirected to keep the promises made to the army then improving those services would not happen any time soon," the government official said.

The IMF representative for Guinea Alvin Hilaire said he was not yet in a position to calculate whether the government could meet its new obligations to the soldiers. "President Conte has said they would deal with their demands but we have to see the numbers to see what impact it will have on the fiscal situation," he said.

He added that Gunea's economy has become "extremely fragile". "There was low growth last year and then the strike led to a compression of activity.. I would want to see what the government has in mind. It would have to be structured carefully."

Hilaire said donor and government officials will meet next week in Conakry to discuss the way forward. "It's not just a question of how much [the soldiers get] but also what is the timing," he said.

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