Sierra Leone President Defends Controversial Guinea Visit

Sierra Leone's President Julius Maada Bio has dismissed persistent criticism for his visit to Guinea earlier this week, saying that the state visit was in the interest of his country's national security.

President Bio spent part of his day on Monday in Guinea's capital, Conkary, holding talks with the leadership of the military junta.

A presidential statement said he embarked on the visit at the invitation of junta leader Col Mamady Doumbouya. The statement further added that the meeting was meant to discuss matters of security concerns to Sierra Leone.

However, supporters of the opposition in Sierra Leone heavily criticised the visit, saying that

Bio's action amounted to undermining the decision of the regional bloc ECOWAS, which had slammed sanctions on Guinea for the September 5 coup which brought Doumbouya to power.

However, President Bio in an interview with CNN on Thursday dismissed the suggestion and said that he made the visit with the consent of "few members" of the bloc.

"Guinea is a neighbour. We do quite a lot of things together. We have security arrangements which are falling apart. I needed to sort those out," he said on the sidelines of the ongoing EXPO2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, adding that "my national security is what's most important to me," he stressed.

President Bio also questioned ECOWAS' stance on Guinea, noting that while he stood by the bloc's position in condemning the coup, which he echoed in an official statement, he thought it was a wrong move to isolate the military leadership.

The Sierra Leon presidency said that part of the agenda to be discussed between President Bio and Col Doumbouya was the protracted dispute over ownership of the small border town of Yenga.

In a meeting between president Bio and Guinea's former president Alpha Conde last year, the issue was nearly resolved. At the time, officials in Sierra Leone said several security agreements had been reached, including joint border security patrols. President Bio said not only has the implementation of those agreement been stalled, but also the security situation in the border areas had worsened.

President Bio added that technical experts from the two countries were scheduled to meet in the coming week as agreed during the Monday's meeting.

Bio became the first head of state to visit Guinea after the ECOWAS' sanction, a decision that was reached at its extraordinary summit in Accra in September.

ECOWAS demanded that the military returns the country to civilian rule within six months.

According to the Sierra Leonean leader, sidelining the junta would have the potential to prove counterproductive, stressing that they should be listened to and provided with the help they need to transition to civilian rule, rather than being sidelined.

President Bio also promised to take the matter up with the other heads of state.

"I think I need to have a frank conversation with the rest of ECOWAS. We cannot help the situation by isolating Guinea. We have to be there. We have to talk to the people who are currently in-charge in Guinea, understand what they want to do and influence them to do in a manner acceptable to the international community," he said.

Bio is in Dubai with a large delegation that include government officials, artists and cultural performers with the goal of showcasing the country's investment potential.

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