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10 years after Guinea stadium massacre, justice is elusive

BOUBACAR DIALLO and CARLEY PETESCH
FILE - In this Friday, Dec. 11, 2009 file photo, young soccer players train outside the September 28 stadium in Conakry, Guinea. On Sept. 28, 2009 several hundred soldiers stormed the national stadium where an anti-government rally was being held, killing more than 150 people and at least 109 victims of sexual assault in what was an ordered and methodical attack on protesters demanding the resignation of coup leader Moussa “Dadis” Camara. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — Mariam Bobo Bah talks through tears as she remembers the brutal stadium massacre of more than 150 protesters in Guinea's capital a decade ago, saying she still has trouble finding herself.

"When the military opened fire on the crowd on Sept. 28, 2009, there was blood everywhere. 'You are bastards. You are really dogs,' they yelled. A group of soldiers threw themselves on me that day. They hit my head. I lost consciousness. When I woke up, they were on me and raped me," she said.

Her husband left her the next day, she said, abandoning her and their children with little means to get by. He had forbidden her from going to a political event, she said, but she didn't imagine that a popular demonstration in the West African nation would turn into a bloodbath.

"Nowadays, the government does nothing to help us. We are left to ourselves," the 51-year-old said.

On that day, several hundred soldiers stormed the national stadium with tear gas and bullets where protesters were denouncing a presidential bid by then-coup leader Moussa "Dadis" Camara. He had seized power in December 2008 after the death of Guinea's longtime dictator and had pledged not to run in the next elections.

The soldiers blocked exits and methodically opened fire. At least 109 people were sexually assaulted, with some soldiers using bayonets or batons.

The security forces later removed the bodies from the stadium and from morgues, burying them in mass graves to cover up the massacre, according to Human Rights Watch.

A decade later, families still await justice.

Among the victims is 20-year-old Mamadou Bailo Bah, who is still looking for the body of his father, Mamadou Aliou Bah.

"That day, my dad was in a good mood. He gave us food. He went to the workshop. He gave money to his workers," he said. When he left for the rally, his 5-year-old daughter warned him that someone could take his phone.

"It was premonition because when my dad was killed at the stadium, someone did pick up his phone and told us he was dead," he said, overcome with emotion. "My dad's death has scattered the family ... Today, we are all separated. Everyone is trying to survive."

Bringing perpetrators of the massacre to trial has been a slow process, worrying Guineans in a nation where impunity is common.

An investigation launched in 2010 concluded only in 2017, after which a committee was set up to organize a trial. Two years later, a trial date has not been scheduled.

In August, Guinea's new justice minister Mohammed Lamine Fofana said preparations for the trial would begin. The government announced a budget of 78 billion Guinean francs, about $8 million, with nearly 80% of funds coming from the international community, including the European Union and United States.

At least 13 suspects have been charged, including Camara, who remains in exile in Burkina Faso. His aide-de-camp, Abubakar "Toumba" Diakite, who is said to have ordered the killings, was extradited from Senegal in 2017. Four others are in detention. Many have been detained beyond the maximum legal limits.

At least one person who faces charges, Moussa Tiegboro Camara, continues to serve in the government as the official in charge of fighting organized crime.

Several rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have called for justice for the victims and fair trials without delay.

"A decade has passed since the stadium massacre in Conakry, but for those who lost their sons, daughters, fathers or mothers, the horror of that day remains forever etched in their memory," said Asmaou Diallo, president of AVIPA, the Association of Victims, Parents and Friends of the September 28 Massacre. "Ten years is already too long to wait when one has a thirst for justice."

The anniversary coincides with an attempt by current President Alpha Conde to change the constitution to run for a third term, a move that worries many Guineans and civil society groups who do not want to see another cycle of violence.

Meanwhile, in the poor neighborhoods of the capital, some victims such as Mamadou Bobo Bah struggle daily to get by. They are hoping that justice will finally bring them some measure of aid.

Bah was an athletic 13-year-old who went to the stadium that day not for politics but to join what he thought would be a party.

When soldiers started shooting, he said, he ran but two bullets hit him in the right foot. After medical treatment, his leg had to be amputated.

"I cannot do anything on my own," he said recently in despair. "I cannot walk for two minutes without sitting down. I have foot pain. I have to beg for food to eat. I am no longer the same person as I was 10 years ago."

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Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.

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