Guinea election commission president, planning director charged with fraud before vote

CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — Two senior voting officials have been charged with vote tampering and sentenced to one year in prison a week before Guinea's crucial presidential vote, in a court proceeding that not even their lawyers were informed of and which is bound to increase tensions before the poll.

El Haj Boubacar Diallo, the director of planning of the National Independent Election Commission, told The Associated Press by phone Friday that he learned of the sentencing when a radio reporter called him to get his reaction Thursday afternoon. He said he confirmed he and the commission's President Ben Sekou Sylla had been charged by calling the country's chief prosecutor who told him it was true.

"I was at the office all day yesterday. No one from the court called me. Not even my lawyer was told about the judge's decision," Diallo said.

The complaint against the election officials was lodged by Alpha Conde, who came in second place in the first round of the presidential election in June with 18 percent of the vote. Top finisher Cellou Dalein Diallo got 44 percent and election watchers say he will likely win the run-off Sept. 19.

But the upcoming election is tainted with ethnic tensions, which have been escalating in recent weeks and threaten to derail what many had hoped would be Guinea's first free and fair vote. The race is pitting Diallo's Peul ethnic group, which is the country's largest but which has never had one of its own in power, against Conde's smaller Malinke tribe. The Malinke are heavily represented in the army and it is the ethnic group of Guinea's interim president Gen. Sekouba Konate.

"Alpha Conde knows he cannot win. So he is using his connections inside the army and inside the interim government to try to manipulate the outcome of the vote," election planning director Diallo said.

Diallo says he has yet to hear from the judge that issued the sentence. On Friday, a public holiday marking the end of Ramadan, he was at home awaiting his fate.

Guinea, a nation on Africa's western coast, has gone through decades of upheavals and most recently survived the one-year rule of a brutal army captain whose men led a massacre Sept. 29, killing hundreds of people that had gathered inside the national soccer stadium to demand a return to democracy. The majority of the victims were Peul.

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Rukmini Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.