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Guinea's 2008 coup leader returns home from exile

Guinea's 2008 coup leader returns home from exile

CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — The man who led a 2008 coup in Guinea and whose brief rule was marked by a stadium massacre against peaceful demonstrators returned to the West African country Wednesday after more than a decade in exile.

After his arrival in the capital, Moussa “Dadis” Camara told supporters he had faith in the country's justice system and was “fully prepared to tell my part of the truth” concerning the 2009 stadium killings when at least 157 people were slain.

“I trust the justice system and I put myself at its disposal,” he said, noting that “no one is above the law.”

Camara is one of more than a dozen suspects who were charged in connection with the massacre, when Guinean security forces fired upon peaceful demonstrators protesting against his intention to run for president.

However, no trial date has ever been set. Earlier this year, human rights groups cited “an evident lack of will to complete preparations” and said victims' families had waited long enough.

“Dadis is a key player in this massacre,” said Alseny Sow, a member of the victims’ relatives organization. “We expect justice.”

For years Guinea's government had sought to prevent his homecoming, fearing it could stoke political instability. However, another coup earlier this year in Guinea put a military junta in power that was more amenable to Camara's return.

On Wednesday, he arrived aboard a commercial flight, wearing a suit and tie and a face mask. The now 57-year-old was largely unrecognizable to most Guineans without the trademark army fatigues and red beret he wore before going into exile.

Camara was shot in the head by one of his bodyguards only a year after he had seized control of Guinea in the aftermath of longtime dictator Lansana Conte's death in December 2008.

Camara's exile to Burkina Faso eventually paved the way for Guinea's first democratic elections since independence from France, which put Alpha Conde in power.

The ex-coup leader did manage to make a brief visit to Guinea in 2013 to attend his mother’s funeral, crossing at a land border with Liberia. But Guinean authorities still resisted Camara's permanent return, fearing it could stoke political tensions. When Camara tried to visit Conakry in 2015, Conde forced him to deplane on a layover in Abidjan before the commercial flight could continue to Guinea's capital.

Now Conde, has been overthrown by another junta and remains under military custody. First elected in the landmark 2010 vote, his popularity sank after he ran for a third term, saying term limits did not apply to him. Conde ultimately won re-election in October 2020, only to be deposed in the military coup less than a year later.

The reversal of fortunes was not lost on Alphonse Thea, a pharmacist from Camara's hometown, Nzerekore.

“For 11 years (Conde) prevented Dadis from coming to the country," Thea said. "He kept him in a sort of golden prison in Ouagadougou. And now he is the one in prison. Dadis is free.”

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Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.