Thursday, February 26, 2009

Guinea: Son of former Guinea President accused of trafficking drugs from South America

The son of Guinea's late president has spoken for the first time since being taken into custody, accused of trafficking drugs from South America through the West African country. Ousmane Conte admitted involvement in the ring, but said he was not the head of the operation.

Saying he is in poor health and need of medical attention, Ousmane Conte, the son of Guinea's late president Lansana Conte, has confessed to a role in an apparent organized drug smuggling ring that has plagued the West African nation in recent years.

The younger Conte, in his first interview since being taken into custody late Monday, recognized his error in forming part of the scheme, in which a number of other former senior officials have also admitted to taking part. Conte stressed that he was not, in his words, the godfather of the ring.

Conte was arrested after his half-uncle implicated him in an appearance on public television before a nationwide audience. Saturnay Bangoura, younger brother of the former first lady, was detained along with a handful of other former officials of the Conte regime, after appearing on television to incriminate a number of others, including the younger Conte.

Among those arrested were the former heads of the federal highways division, the national police, and the economic and financial crimes unit, as well as a pair of judges. They are alleged to have teamed with Colombian drug lords to transship millions of dollars worth of cocaine through West Africa en route to Europe.

Captain Moussa Camara, the current head of the Guinean government, has made the fight against drug smuggling a primary undertaking since seizing power late last year.

Captain Camara, who took power after the elder Conte's death in December, has said that those responsible for drug smuggling will appear before the nation to explain their actions.

The fact that the suspects have confessed without provocation, and on nationwide television, has led some Guineans and human rights observers to wonder if Guinea's new regime used torture to extract confessions. Some also worry that Captain Camara is using the drug war to settle political scores.

But Minister of Justice Siba Loalmalou said torture had not and would not be used against prisoners.

Loalmalou says the accused have the right to access lawyers, and in the case of Conte, to medical treatment. The minister said the detainees are also free to confess their wrong-doing to the people of Guinea, and ask for forgiveness.

Captain Camara has said the arrests are a first step in imposing rule of law in Guinea. Mr. Camara says he plans to preside over a transition phase leading to polls, which he has promised will take place sometime next year.

By: Published with the permission of Voice of America
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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