CONAKRY — The head of the ruling junta in Guinea said Sunday he bears "no responsibility" for the September 28 massacre of opposition protesters in which the United Nations says more than 150 people were killed.
But even as Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, in power for nine months, distanced himself from the bloodbath at a Conakry stadium, former ruler France said it could no longer work with him and called for international intervention.
Asked during an interview with Radio France Internationale (RFI), "Do you feel any responsibility vis-a-vis the deaths of September 28?", Camara replied: "No responsibility."
"I am told that there was a carnage and that soldiers opened fire," he added, before referring to himself in the third person.
"What happened cannot be disputed. But on whom should responsibility be put? It cannot be put on President Dadis... President Dadis was in his office."
Camara added that it is "dead wrong" to say he gave the order to fire on protesters, after witnesses alleged that the president's aide de camp, who is also his nephew, was among those commanding the operation.
Thousands had gathered at Conakry's main stadium to protest against the prospect of Camara becoming a candidate in presidential elections set for January 31 when soldiers opened fire.
The junta says 56 civilians were killed, but the Guinean Human Rights Organisation has claimed that at least 157 people were killed and 1,253 wounded in the crackdown. The United Nations has put the toll at more than 150.
France said it could no longer work with Camara after the "terrible and savage" violence, and that it was pressing West African leaders from regional bloc ECOWAS to engage.
"It seems to me that we can no longer work with Dadis Camara and that there has to be an international intervention," Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in an interview with RTL radio.
Kouchner said France was pressing for a role in Guinea for the Economic Community of West African States, whose current chairman is Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua.
"Nigeria has to agree and we are working on that," Kouchner said.
ECOWAS has asked Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore to act as a "facilitator" to ease tensions in Guinea, and he is to arrive in Conakry on Monday.
"It is foreseen that he will meet leaders of the country, opposition figures and all those who can help find a way out of this crisis in a brother country," an adviser to Compaore said.
Human Rights Watch called for those rounded up after the demonstration to be freed or face fair trial, saying that their detention without charge was a violation of Guinean and international law.
"The Guinean authorities must either immediately free everyone detained without charge after the bloody repression... or charge them and hold fair trials," HRW said in a statement.
"Witnesses, humanitarian workers and diplomats asked by HRW have said that security forces are still holding dozens of demonstrators including members of the opposition."
Opposition leader Jean-Marie Dore said that members of a former Liberian rebel group, the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), were among those who took part in the massacre.
Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said last week that she did not think reports of Liberian mercenaries in Guinea were true, and Camara has denied hiring former rebels for his presidential guard.
Camara again refused to state clearly whether he would run in the presidential election, saying it would be "inhuman" to address the question so soon after the massacre.
But he added: "I am ready to resign from the army... if I want to be a candidate.... If I do run, and if I fail, then I will return to my village or I will ask to go to an international institution, as I have said before."
Camara's arrival in power on December 23 in a bloodless coup after the death of longtime ruler Lansana Conte was initially welcomed by Guineans. They believed his vows to fight poverty, corruption and drug trafficking, along with his pledge to hand over power to a civilian president.
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