At least 16 people have been burned alive or hacked to death with machetes and dozens wounded during two days of ethnic clashes in the West African state of Guinea, officials said on Tuesday.
The violence broke out in the southern forest region early on Monday, when petrol station guards from the Guerze tribe in the town of Koule beat to death an ethnic Konianke youth they had accused of stealing.
Fighting quickly spread to the nearby provincial capital N’Zerekore, 570km southeast of Conakry, leaving several homes destroyed.
“The violence recorded since Monday in Koule and then in N’Zerekore, has left 16 people dead and about 80 wounded,” government spokesman Albert Damatang Camara said.
He said security forces had been deployed en masse and calm was beginning to return to the streets.
However, a state radio correspondent in N’Zerekore said it was unlikely that an accurate death toll would be established because the bodies of many attacked by machetes had not been sent to hospital.
“Some were burned alive, while others were cut with machetes. We are not able to manage. This situation is beyond us,” said Francois Lamah, a doctor from N’Zerekore.
Security forces had been deployed to break up the fighting on Monday, but were initially unable to quell the violence, despite a curfew imposed by N’Zerekore prefect Aboubacar Mbop Camara, who appealed for reinforcements.
A security source said the government had dispatched two of its top army colonels — the director of the national organized crime agency and the head of Guinean President Alpha Conde’s security — to restore order.
The men come from the region and are members of the two opposing tribes.
Conde called for calm and unity in a televised address to the nation, and promised to bring those behind the violence to justice.
“While offering my condolences to the families of the victims, I condemn these acts,” he said. “I want to reassure the entire nation, and particularly the people of N’Zerekore, that the government has taken every measure possible to ensure the safety of people and their property.”
A number of witnesses said that Guerzes and Koniankes had been attacking one another with machetes, axes, sticks, stones and firearms, setting fire to houses and cars.
Guerze chief Molou Holamou Azaly Zogbelemou was among those wounded and taken to hospital, Camara said.
“The Konianke protesters also set fire to his home and his car,” he added.
Communal violence is common in the region, near the border with Liberia, where clashes between the two tribes regularly break out over religious and other grievances.
The indigenous Guerze are mostly Christian or animist, while the Konianke — seen as newcomers — are Muslims considered to be close to Liberia’s Mandingo ethnic community.