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Monday, 23 October, 2000, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Civil war fears in Guinea
map of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia
Guinea blames rebel attacks on neighbouring countries
By BBC regional analyst Elizabeth Blunt

Following a series of border attacks from rebels, the West African republic of Guinea may now be threatened with the kind of civil war faced by neighbours, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Since the beginning of September, raiders have struck from the two both countries killing civilians and burning villages.

The attacks were mainly from across two parts of the Sierra Leone border, and also from Liberia near the town of Macenta.

Nearly 360 people have been killed in the raids though a local member of the parliament for the Forest region around Macenta says the death toll in the Liberian border region alone could be as high as 1,500.


The attacks have been claimed by a dissident movement known as the 'Rassemblement des Forces Democratiques de Guinee'.

Liberian President Charles Taylor
Taylor accuses Guinea of supporting Liberian rebels
Someone calling himself Mohamed Lamine Fofana and describing himself as their spokesman has been calling international radio stations on their behalf.

But no-one has heard of a Mr Fofana before, and the Guinean Government refuses to accept that Guinean dissidents have anything to do with the raids.

The government's version is that the country is suffering a foreign invasion, from Liberia, and by Liberian-backed RUF rebels from Sierra Leone.

In fact two different things seem to be going on at the same time.

In the Forest region, around Macenta, the fighting is mostly a Liberian affair, with President Charles Taylor's forces mounting cross-border raids against Liberian rebel bases.

The presence of these rebels is an open secret in Guinea.

In the capital, Conakry, the Liberian oppositon is discreet, but in Macenta Ulimo-K fighters are there for all to see, manning road blocks, and playing an active part in the defence of the city.


But on the Sierra leone border, Guinean dissidents do seem to be involved.

Guinean President Lansana Conte
Conte wants refugees out of Guinea
There have been persistant reports of a rebel group training inside Liberia with, at its core, Gbago Zoumanigui and the army mutineers who fled after narrowly failing to overthrow the government in 1996.

After training, the rebels are reported to have moved across the border to Sierra Leone and linked up with the Liberian backed movement there, the RUF.

This alliance seems to be responsible for the attacks near Kindia and Forecariah.

So far the assailants do not seem to have taken ground, and the attacks have been pushed back. But they could still cause serious trouble for Guinea.

They have put pressure on the army, which already has a history of mutiny and coups d'etat.

In the Forest region, fighting between Liberian dissidents - mostly Mandingo - and Liberian Government forces (substantially Gio or Mano) has stirred up resentments between the same tribes within Guinea.

Fate of refugees

Caught in the middle are the refugees- nearly half a million of them, some of whom have lived in Guinea for as long as 10 years.

Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea
Most refugees have lived in Guinea for nearly 10 years
Shortly after the attacks started President Lansana Conte spoke on the radio, not in French, but in his own language, Soussou, saying that the refugees had been there long enough, and they should go home, or at least be confined to camps.

Some Guineans took this as an open invitation to express their resentment against foreigners.

Liberians and Sierra Leoneans were arrested, abused, threatened, evicted from their lodgings and in some cases beaten or raped.

Now the government and the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, are negotiating their future.

The situation in Sierra Leone in particular is still too dangerous for many of them to go home, though the government is insisting that they at least be moved well away from the border.

But moving several hundred thousand people in a country like Guinea will be a monumental task.

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See also:

14 Oct 00 | Africa
Guinea aid work resumes
30 Sep 00 | Africa
Attack in Guinea kills nearly 70
25 Sep 00 | Africa
Liberia turns up the heat
15 Sep 00 | Africa
Guinea: Crisis long in the making
12 Sep 00 | Africa
Guinea's opposition leader jailed
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