Guinea's junta starts talks with opposition

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* Talks first step towards transitional government

* Opposition to choose prime minister

* Elections still seen as distant

(Adds United Nations comment)

By Saliou Samb

CONAKRY, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Guinea's ruling military junta has begun talks with opposition parties, an official said on Tuesday after the army backed having a civilian prime minister to lead the unstable West African country to elections.

Last Wednesday Defence Minister Sekouba Konate, who has assumed control of the world's biggest bauxite exporter while junta chief Moussa Dadis Camara recovers from an assassination bid, said he wanted an opposition figure as prime minister.

"Two delegations of four members each have been put together by the two sides," said Mohamed Diane, executive secretary of the main opposition group the Assembly of Guinean People (RPG).

"We want to find out exactly what the junta wants," he said, adding that talks had started unannounced on Monday.

Konate's offer has been cautiously welcomed in the region, where neighbours were concerned that tensions in Guinea would spark wider ethnic strife.

The United Nations is backing Konate's move towards establishing a transitional government.

"The Secretary-General is encouraged by recent political developments in Guinea, particularly the commitment expressed by the interim head of state, General Sekouba Konate, for a return to constitutional order," a spokesman for Ban Ki-moon said in a statement late on Monday.


Guinean opposition parties and civil society groups have united in an umbrella organisation which will choose a prime minister to lead a national unity government through the transition towards democratic rule.

Konate told his troops on Tuesday he would step aside after elections have been organised, a military source said. Analysts say it could be months, perhaps even more than a year, before elections are held.

Camara, whose National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD) junta seized power in December 2008 after the death of longstanding President Lansana Conte, was shot in a failed assassination attempt by his ex-aide de camp last month.

Since then Camara, whom a U.N. report held responsible for the Sept. 28 massacre of more than 150 pro-democracy marchers, has been receiving medical treatment in Morocco and has made no public statements.

Konate has been under growing diplomatic pressure to allow a transition to civilian rule in Camara's absence. Last week he said Camara would need medical attention for "some time", the clearest signal yet by the junta that Camara's short-lived political career could be over. [ID:nLDE6051UY].

(Reporting by Saliou Samb; Writing by Daniel Magnowski; Editing by Peter Millership)

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