The West African regional bloc ECOWAS on Saturday suspended Guinea from its ranks after the military coup there last month, it said.
Heads of state and government from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), meeting in the Nigerian capital, followed the recommendation of their foreign ministers in barring Guinea.
ECOWAS commission chair Mohamed Ibn Chambas said the leaders “strongly condemned the coup d’etat of December 23″ and “suspended Guinea from all meetings of ECOWAS at heads of state and ministerial levels, until constitutional order is restored.”
Guinean soldiers led by 44-year-old Captain Moussa Dadis Camara staged a bloodless coup on December 23, hours after the death of long-time dictator Lansana Conte.
Conte, who was 74 when he died, had ruled Guinea for 24 years with an iron fist and was only the second leader that the world’s leading bauxite exporting country has known in 50 years.
The coup which has been widely condemned, revealed disagreement within the 15-member bloc on how to respond.
One ECOWAS member state, Senegal, came out publicly to endorse the new regime in this nation of 9.2 million people.
In a statement to the leaders meeting in Abuja, Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade justified his stance arguing the Guinea power take-over was not a classic military coup because soldiers only stepped in to fill a power vacuum after Conte’s death.
“The president of the republic died, no one took over in the interim. I would like to know against who the coup was staged,” said Wade who added that he did not boycott the summit, but had other major national commitments at home.
“We can choose the easy path of recrimination, suspensions and penalties. Or we can, while reaffirming our principles and our opposition to anti-constitutional change of power, give a mandate to the president of the (ECOWAS) commission to assist Guinea through a successful transition,” said Wade.
Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua, whose country was loudest in condemning the coup and who currently holds the bloc’s rotating chairmanship, stressed the importance of returning Guinea “to constitutional democracy as quickly as practicable.
“It is particularly necessary for all ECOWAS member states… to avoid creating the impression that we are working at cross purposes,” Yar’Adua told the opening session of the summit.
Leaders present at the talks include those from Benin, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo, Ivory Coast and the newly elected president of Ghana.
While barred from taking part in the summit, Kabine Komara, appointed prime minister by the junta, was invited to address the meeting.
“I told the assembly that Guinea wanted to be understood, that we wanted to receive all the support necessary for us to at last become a normal country,” he told journalists after his speech.
Chambas said ECOWAS wants the junta to turn itself into a national transition council comprising both military and civilians figures, and elections to hold there “absolutely within a year.”
The west African bloc, along with the African Union (AU) and the European Union would help set up the transitional body, assisting with financing and monitoring its progress, ECOWAS officials said.
In December, the AU suspended Guinea from the 53-strong continental body. On Tuesday, the United States suspended aid to Guinea, calling for a return to civilian rule and elections.