The bodies of 54 people burned alive or hacked to death in ethnic clashes in the west African state of Guinea Conakry were identified on Wednesday, as the army deployed troops to the area amid fears that the death count would rise steeply.
Officials said Wednesday that clashes in south-eastern Guinea Conakry have killed 54 people and injured scores more, and warned the death toll could be higher.
The country’s second-largest city, Nzerekore, and the surrounding forest region near the border with Ivory Coast have been gripped by clashes between rival communities after petrol station guards from the Guerze tribe in the town of Koule beat to death an ethnic Konianke youth they had accused of stealing.
Witnesses said some victims of the ensuing clashes had been beheaded with machetes.
Noumandjan Camara, a hospital employee in Nzerekore, said he counted 54 bodies. Jean-Marie Doré, a former prime minister who is from the region, confirmed the same number.
Authorities had initially put the death toll at 16 but the figure began to rise sharply as bodies were collected from the streets. Both Camara and Doré noted that 54 only counts those bodies that had been taken to the hospital.
Authorities sent troops to affected towns on Wednesday in a bid to stem the violence. Residents said security forces arrived in Nzerekore and the nearby towns of Beyla and Koule, where the initial killing took place.
Government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara said calm had been restored and about 50 people arrested. He said some 130 people had been injured in the clashes as well as the recorded fatalities.
The fighting broke out shortly after Guinea’s rival political parties agreed to hold legislative elections on September 24 after months of deadlock and street protests, which often degenerated into ethnic clashes.
The September poll is meant to be the final step towards the return to civilian rule after a 2008 coup.
President Alpha Condé came to power in the 2010 presidential election but his rivals accuse him of attempted vote-rigging. Condé draws support from Guinea’s second-largest ethnic group, the Malinke, while the opposition is backed by the Peul, who account for around 40% of the population.
Mineral-rich, Guinea is the world’s largest bauxite exporter, and mining firms have signed multi-billion dollar deals in a bid to secure untapped mineral riches, especially iron ore.
Political instability, however, has led to some investments being frozen.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-07-18