CONAKRY (Reuters) - Guinea will form a truth and reconciliation commission aimed at healing the wounds of ethnic and political violence that has plagued the West African country for decades, President-elect Alpha Conde said on Saturday.
The move will be modelled on South Africa’s post-apartheid commission formed by Nelson Mandela and is likely to be well received by human rights groups which have condemned the country’s repeated spasms of violence.
This is “so that those who have made mistakes can ask forgiveness and that victims can accept this forgiveness”, Conde said on state television, days after Guinea’s Supreme Court validated his win in a hotly contested November 7 poll in which voters largely followed ethnic lines.
“I know that forgiveness does not replace the dead or the arms that were chopped off, but it’s an important step.”
Conde, winner of Guinea’s first free election since independence from France in 1958, said reconciliation was critical to rebuilding the poor and unstable country.
Guinea, the world’s top exporter of the aluminium ore bauxite, has seen numerous bouts of violence over past decades. At least 10 people died in election clashes last month.
Among the most grim examples, former dictator and first post-independence leader Sekou Toure’s Camp Boiro still stands in the capital Conakry. Rights group Amnesty International says more that 50,000 political detainees died in horrendous conditions in the prison, now a military camp.
According to some witnesses, Toure’s prisoners were locked into cells where they were given neither food nor water and their screams were ignored until they died -- a slow form of execution the regime called the ‘dark diet”.
Conde himself was sentenced to death in absentia by Toure’s regime, after he was implicated in a coup plot.
Under Lansana Conte, Guinea’s second post-independence leader, at least 130 protesters were shot dead by soldiers in downtown Conakry. Nearly two years of military rule followed his death in 2008.
Last year, now-exiled junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara drew condemnation after his security forces killed more than 150 pro-democracy demonstrators and raped scores of women gathered in a stadium.
The violence is widely believed to have been driven in part by centuries-old tensions between the country’s two most populous ethnic groups, the Peul and the Malinke.
The United Nations’ top official in West Africa has urged Guinea’s next government to put reconciliation high on the agenda and end the perceived impunity of its notoriously undisciplined army.