Page last updated at 12:15 GMT, Saturday, 5 December 2009

No closure after September massacre in Guinea

The apparent assassination attempt on Guinea's military leader, Capt Moussa Dadis Camara, follows the bloody crackdown of a pro-democracy protest in late September. Mark Doyle found tensions were still high on a recent visit to Guinea.

Guinea soldiers arresting protesters (28 Sept 2009)
Protesters at the rally were calling on the military government to stand down

An old man sits in front of a small shop on one of the busy streets of the capital Conakry.

Normally, he would have been just another part of the bustling scene, the ever-changing tableau of market stalls, grimy concrete lock-ups and brightly dressed people that the car window frames for me as I drive by.

But I know this bearded old man in simple white robes and sandals. I wave through the window and he waves back and smiles in recognition.

He smiles. That is surprising really, because I know that he is looking at the very road where his son was gunned down and killed by soldiers just two months ago.

The boy, and I do not think I should use his name, or that of his father, was returning in the direction of home from the political rally held at the football stadium on 28 September.

The protesters, from several different political parties, were calling on Guinea's military government to stand down and make way for democracy.

Rampage

It was a noisy protest, but a peaceful one. Peaceful, that is, until units from the presidential guard surrounded the stadium and opened fire.

By all accounts - and I have spoken to dozens of people who were inside the stadium that day - it was a straightforward massacre.

They lashed out and opened fire on anyone else they thought might have had the temerity to ask for democracy

In 20 years' work as a journalist, I do not think I have ever come across an event that was so consistently and convincingly reported to me by eyewitnesses. There is no doubt in my mind that the soldiers opened fire to kill.

It is as if someone wanted to make a sort of horror-movie parody of everything that can go wrong with a military regime. There was a pro-democracy rally, it was mown down and no due process followed.

After doing their "work" in the stadium the presidential guard, or the "red berets" as they are known in Guinea, went on the rampage in the streets.

They lashed out and opened fire on anyone else they thought might have had the temerity to ask for democracy. That included any young men who looked like they might have been at the stadium and escaped.

Like the old man's son.

'Disappearing corpses'

Two months on, the father's pain is still especially raw because he has not been able to obtain his son's body.

It is one of many cases where families saw the bodies of their loved ones in the hospital morgue, but the bodies then disappeared.

Guinea

In the case of the old man's son, perhaps someone did not want it to be known that he was killed by a bullet wound through the chest.

The day before I drove past the father contemplating the street, I had visited him at his modest home. He clutched a small plastic bag with his boy's photo and his school registration card.

"The boy is gone," he said. "The body is lost. What more can I do?" He scrunched the plastic bag closed and put it on the floor.

He looked at me again and asked: "What more can I do?"

Journalists prefer asking questions to answering them, so I avoided the old man's lingering gaze and asked him what he had done already.

He told me he had reported the case to the Red Cross, to the religious authorities, to the United Nations and to the Guinean police but all to no avail.

Traumatised

There is another man I know in Conakry. He is a big guy, a swaggering man about town, a bit of a hustler perhaps.

He was at the stadium that day, 28 September, when the shooting started. He had a plastic bottle of water on him, always a wise thing to do in a city which can be baking hot.

But when the shooting started he had drunk most of the bottle.

Dying people were all around him, trapped under the boiling sun by injuries that prevented them from moving. People kept asking the big man for water.

"What could I do?" he asked me as we sat in the shade of a tree. "It was hot that day, like today, and everyone wanted water, I didn't have enough".

And then he told me that he decided to hand out tiny amounts of water when he could, tiny amounts measured in the plastic screw-top cap of the bottle.

And then, as he remembered handing out hopelessly small amounts of water, symbols of charity, useless, really, in practical terms, the big man broke down in tears.

Events have been moving fast this weekend, with the apparent assassination attempt.

The soldiers will now, no doubt, try to shuffle the pack, to re-group somehow. But until those responsible for the massacre are brought to justice, there will be no closure for the old man, no beginning to the easing of his pain.

And there will be no peace for the big man, who tried to help with drops of water but feels he should have done more.

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SEE ALSO
Shot Guinea chief 'flown abroad'
04 Dec 09 |  Africa
Guinea leader 'wounded by aide'
04 Dec 09 |  Africa
Guinea's erratic military ruler
29 Sep 09 |  Africa
Country profile: Guinea
09 Feb 11 |  Country profiles

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