April 29, 2009 / 2:00 PM / 10 years ago

Guinea soldiers vow en masse to end crime wave

CONAKRY (Reuters) - Hundreds of Guinean soldiers went on bended knee in front of the country’s military leader and vowed to end criminality in their ranks, days after a U.S rights group accused the military of extortion and rape.

Captain Moussa Dadis Camara speaks during a meeting with political parties at a military camp in Conakry December 27, 2008. REUTERS/Alain Amontchi

Moussa Dadis Camara, who came to power in a December coup but is battling to maintain stability in the world’s top bauxite exporter, oversaw the ceremonies in military camps on Tuesday. They were broadcast later on state television.

Camara’s National Council for Development and Democracy (CNDD) was initially welcomed when it took power after the death of long-standing President Lansana Conte, but soldiers have been accused of robbing shops and homes while arrests over a suspected coup plot have also fuelled instability.

Calls for an end to impunity within the military have put pressure on Camara, already widely condemned by the international community for his military takeover. Analysts say his behaviour has become increasingly erratic, despite promises to restore law and order.

Chanting in unison, hundreds of soldiers at the Alpha Yaya Diallo camp and the presidential guard headquarters swore not to “steal, commit acts of banditry or break laws of the republic”, vowing instead to protect civilians and their property.

Earlier this week, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said soldiers had been carrying out armed robbery, extortion and rape and called on the junta to rein them in.

“We will no longer accept in our ranks those who have stolen, committed acts of banditry or raped. It is over,” said Defence Minister General Sekouba Konate, who also witnessed the ceremony with one hand on the Bible and another on the Koran.

However, state television also reported that soldiers had attacked a house belonging to an adopted daughter of the late president on Tuesday, stealing tens of thousands of dollars and a case full of gold before they were arrested.

HRW said most of the abuses by the military had been carried out under the pretext of the fight against drug trafficking, counterfeit medicines and corruption. But victims have reported seeing their goods on sale outside military camps and army personnel driving seized vehicles, HRW said.

The accusations come amid increasing fears the military is divided in its support for Camara.

About 20 soldiers, including some officers, were arrested in Guinea last week after rumours of a counter-coup spread around the Alpha Yaya Diallo military camp, which is the junta headquarters, ahead of a planned trip abroad by Camara.

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