December 29, 2008 / 7:04 PM / 9 years ago

African Union suspends Guinea, junta purges generals

By Saliou Samb

CONAKRY, Dec 29 (Reuters) - The African Union suspended Guinea on Monday following last week's coup, and the country's military junta retired more than 20 top generals as it consolidated its grip over the West African bauxite exporter.

The young officers who seized power following the death of long-serving President Lansana Conte a week ago have promised to stamp out corruption and abuse, hold elections in 2010 and review mining contracts held by international companies.

Moving to strengthen their control of the security forces, the new junta, which consists largely of younger, middle-ranking army officers, ordered 21 generals into retirement, including the nation's top military commander.

It said some could be given other jobs.

While enjoying popular support locally and backing from the president of neighbouring Senegal, the National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD) junta led by Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara has faced condemnation for its bloodless takeover from donors like the United States and the European Union.

In Addis Ababa, the African Union called for a return to constitutional order in the former French colony, which is the world's No. 1 exporter of bauxite and holds a third of all known reserves of this mineral ore used to make aluminium.

"The peace and security council of the AU on Monday decided to suspend the participation of Guinea in the activities of the AU until the return to constitutional order in that country," the council said in a statement.

"The AU reiterates its firm condemnation of the coup d'etat, which is a flagrant violation of the constitution of Guinea."

CNDD member Capt. Daman Oulen Keita criticised the AU decision and said the continental body was "out of step".

He added that given the support for the takeover in Guinea, where most citizens live in poverty despite the country's mineral riches, the AU "will be obliged to support us".

Declaring a "zero tolerance" for coups, the West African regional bloc ECOWAS also said it would find it difficult to work with the military rulers in Conakry.

ECOWAS commission president Mohamed Ibn Chambas said the junta's plan for elections in 2010 was "not acceptable". "A two-year transitional period is too long, it can be done quicker," he told reporters in Nigeria's capital Abuja.



ANTI-GRAFT PLEDGE APPLAUDED

The list of Guinean generals retired by the junta included armed forces chief of staff General Diarra Camara who had initially come out against the coup and defended the constitutional process under which the civilian national assembly chief should have succeeded Conte when he died.

General Camara later endorsed the junta, which has named two of its members, Lt.-Col. Sekouba Konate and General Mamadouba Toto Camara, as ministers of defence and security respectively.

Guinea's biggest opposition party, the Rally for the People of Guinea (RPG) led by veteran politician Alpha Conde, welcomed the CNDD junta's promises to hold elections and to carry out anti-corruption audits of government finances.

In a statement, it said it was ready to join the transition government leading to elections. But it called for members of previous governments tainted with corruption to be excluded.

Mining firms in Guinea such as Rio Tinto (RIO.L) (RIO.AX), Alcoa (AA.N) and Rusal, which have spent billions of dollars of investment in the country, now face uncertainty following the junta pledge to review contracts. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/) (Additional reporting by Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa, Felix Onuah in Abuja, Dan Magnowski in Dakar; Writing by Pascal Fletcher)



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