(Audio available further below)
DAKAR (Reuters) - Guinea runs the risk of another army takeover if its presidential run-off is further delayed, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special representative for West Africa has warned.
A decisive second-round vote in the world's top exporter of the aluminium ore bauxite was due to be held last Sunday but authorities postponed it at the last minute citing a lack of technical preparation.
Political infighting within the country's national election commission (CENI) has since prevented it from agreeing on a new date, raising the threat of unrest and growing tensions between ethnic groups backing rival candidates.
(To listen to this article, click on the player below)
"We are getting into a situation where things are getting quite risky and dangerous," Said Djinnit, head of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), told Reuters after talks with Guinean officials in the capital Conakry.
"The risk of the army taking over if things go wrong is real," he warned in an interview at his headquarters in the Senegalese capital Dakar late on Tuesday.
Djinnit said he had heard assurances from election officials during talks in Conakry that technical preparations for the second round would be in place by the end of this month, making an election possible either on October 3 or 10.
"Ideally it would be better to have the elections before the school year starts," he said of an October 4 scheduled return to school. Teachers are viewed as an important source of volunteer help for organising the balloting around the country.
Djinnit said there was a widespread yearning in Guinea to draw the line on half a century of coups, unrest and military rule that have so far prevented the vast bulk of its 10 million people from benefiting from its mineral wealth.
He hailed junta leader General Sekouba Konate's commitment to hand power back to civilians and noted that Konate, an army veteran commanding wide respect from the ranks, had managed to maintain discipline within the notoriously unruly armed forces.
But, without elaborating, he warned that elements within the army could use any disorder as a pretext to assert themselves.
"There are people in the army who are looking for excuses," he said.
In a sign of growing impatience with the delays, Konate issued a statement on Tuesday warning that he "would not accept" any further postponement in the presidential run-off, although he did not specify what he would do if there was. Konate is seen as anxious to step down and has already threatened to resign.
The run-off pits former prime minister Celou Dalein Diallo against Alpha Conde, a long-time opposition leader who has never served in a national government. Diallo, who leads after the first round, is of the Peul ethnicity while Conde is Malinke.
Guinea's proximity to fragile states such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast, together with an ethnic mix replicated across the region, means that any domestic unrest has the potential to set off instability across its borders.
Djinnit, who has made around 40 trips to Guinea in less than three years, said there had been a major international effort to support the transition to civilian rule in Guinea and that it was now up to its political class to take the last step.
"There is a real sense of willingness to get out of the crisis that lasted for 50 years," he said. "What is left is one small mile to finish the business."