Guinea's president survives rocket attack, appeals for calm

While the identity and motives of the attackers are not clear, Tuesday's attack on the presidential palace comes at a fragile time for a country still reconciling after fractious December elections and a coup d'état.

Soldiers stand outside the damaged home of Guinean President Alpha Conde in Conakry, July 19. Conde escaped two attacks on his residence on Tuesday that killed at least three people and left his home riddled with bullets, in assaults which authorities linked to former senior officers in the army.

A rocket attack on the presidential palace in Conakry, Guinea, suggests that Guinea’s transition to democratic rule remains fragile.

Guinea’s President Alpha Conde, who survived the two-hour attack, praised his presidential guard for repelling the attackers , whose identities remain unknown. Mr. Conde was elected in December 2010, after a military junta voluntarily stepped down from power after a year of military rule.

Guinea – the world’s largest supplier of bauxite aluminum ore – has been largely ruled by civilian authoritarian rulers since independence from French colonial rule in 1958. When the last of these civilian despots, Lasana Conte, died on Dec. 23, 2008, military rebels led by Capt. Dadis Camara led a coup that was initially welcomed by Guineans, until it became clear that Camara intended to stay in power.

Camara agreed to hand over power to civilian authorities after surviving an attack from his own aide-de-camp on Dec. 3, 2009.

President Conde spoke to the nation in a television address Tuesday night. "My house was attacked last night but I congratulate the presidential guard who fought heroically from 0310 until 0500 [GMT] before backup arrived," he said. "Our enemies can try everything, but they cannot prevent the Guinean people's march towards democracy. Democracy has begun and it will continue, I promised you change and, God willing, change will happen."

Guinean politics are heavily influenced by rivalries among the major ethnic groups, and sometimes these rivalries spill over into violence. The December 2010 elections were largely peaceful, but clashes did occur afterward between members of Conde’s ethnic Malinke group and the ethnic Peuls of Conde’s main opposition rival, Cellou Dalein Diallo.

On Tuesday, Mr. Diallo appealed for calm and called the attack on Conde’s residence “regrettable.”

While the heavy weaponry used in the Tuesday attack on the presidential palace might suggest that elements from within the Guinean military were involved, it is also true that the flow of illegal weapons from other neighboring post-conflict zones in West AfricaLiberia, Sierra Leone, and more recently Ivory Coast – may also have been readily available to many different factions who might want to see the downfall of Conde.

Guinea’s military – which largely stayed out of direct politics, unlike in other West African countries – may also be riven by the same ethnic and political divisions that exist in society itself. A UN report found that the military junta, then led by Camara, was directly responsible for a Sept. 28, 2009 massacre of 150 peaceful demonstrators.

Before the Tuesday attack, Guinea was poised to make a strong financial and economic recovery. In addition to bauxite, Guinea has great hydroelectric power-generating potential, and it also has good ports to conduct trade.

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