CONAKRY, Guinea – The No. 2 of Guinea's military junta on Wednesday made his first public speech since last week's assassination attempt on the country's military strongman.
New footage on state TV showed Gen. Sekouba Konate talking to soldiers during a morning visit to one of the capital's military barracks.
"We are asking for your cohesion," he told the assembled soldiers in a rambling speech. "We have already seen your unity. The army is a family."
The nation of 10 million has been essentially without a government since Capt. Moussa "Dadis" Camara was shot by his aide-de-camp last week and evacuated overseas for emergency surgery.
Although a government spokesman has said that Konate is now coordinating the junta's activities, he repeatedly declined to refer to him as the interim president, sowing fears of a power vacuum.
Sekouba has not yet officially addressed the nation, heightening the sense that he is not truly in charge.
Konate's comments Wednesday appeared aimed at snuffing out reports of deep divisions within the army.
Camara, who adored the spotlight and used to routinely give three- to four-hour long televised interviews has not addressed the country since he was evacuated to a military hospital in Morocco. His spokesman Idrissa Cherif has repeatedly said that Camara will "soon" address the people, but his visible absence has led many to speculate that he is badly wounded.
Earlier in the day, the junta announced they had suspended high-level negotiations with the opposition which had been under way in neighboring Burkina Faso.
The talks mediated by Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore were meant to find a solution to the country's political crisis following an army-led massacre of at least 157 people during a Sept. 28 protest calling for an end to military rule.
"We cannot continue when our boss is not here ... The negotiations have been suspended," Cherif said. Asked when Capt. Moussa "Dadis" Camara will return to Guinea, he said: "I do not know when the president will come back. It's up to his doctors."
The suspension of the high-level talks is another indication that the country's leader is unlikely to be making a quick recovery.
Camara's health has been a mystery ever since he arrived in Morocco last Friday where he is being treated at the Mohammed V Hospital. Junta officials have insisted that he is doing well and is conscious and talking, but diplomats briefed on the matter have repeatedly said that the military strongman was seriously wounded and is unlikely to return anytime soon.
Camara, who suspended the country's constitution when he grabbed power last year, had promised to organize elections within one year in which neither he nor any other member of the 32-person junta would be allowed to run. He broke his promise just a few months later.
When thousands of opposition supporters gathered inside the national stadium in September to demand his departure, the presidential guard opened fire. Dozens of women were brutally raped on the stadium grass, including with bayonets, knives and rifle barrels. Rape victims have testified before a U.N. commission that they saw top junta leaders walking past them as they were being assaulted and did nothing to stop the soldiers.
The shocking brutality prompted the African and the European Unions to impose sanctions, including an arms embargo and a travel ban on top members of the junta. Compaore offered to mediate between the military and civilian leaders in the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou. The next meeting between the two sides was supposed to be around Dec. 17.
The suspension could indicate that the military government is leaderless, in contradiction to what the junta had earlier been saying. Cherif insisted that the president was talking and had met members of his cabinet in his hospital room in Morocco.
Diplomats in touch with medical officials in Morocco have said that Camara's room inside the Mohammed V Hospital in Rabat is off limits to anyone other than his doctors and his nurse, and possibly his wife and children.