CONAKRY – Volunteers continued the grim task of collecting bodies from the streets in southern Guinea on Thursday after ethnic clashes that left dozens burned alive or hacked to death with machetes.
More than 50 bodies have been identified after violence broke out in the southern forest region early Monday, when Guerze tribesmen in the town of Koule beat to death an ethnic Konianke. Fighting quickly spread to the provincial capital of N’Zerekore, almost 600 km southeast of Conakry, leaving at least 80 wounded and several homes, churches and mosques damaged or destroyed.
A preliminary death toll estimated at 54 is expected to rise significantly with bodies continually arriving at the city’s main hospital.
“This morning we have seen the Red Cross and volunteers bringing in more bodies — more than 10,” said a hospital source in N’Zerekore. He said police had buried dozens of bodies in a mass grave at an undisclosed location “to prevent the situation escalating again in the housing areas with funeral processions.”
Families of the victims who learned the bodies were not being returned to them voiced outrage, saying they had been denied the opportunity to bury their dead with dignity. “The bodies were put in a pit on the outskirts of the city in an undisclosed location to avoid people using it as a place of pilgrimage,” N’Zerekore police officer Julien Lohalamou said.
Security forces were deployed to break up the fighting Monday but were initially unable to quell it despite a curfew imposed by N’Zerekore Prefect Aboubacar Mbop Camara. A number of witnesses said Guerzes and Koniankes attacked one another with machetes, axes, sticks, stones and firearms, and set fire to houses and cars.
Lohalamou said no one was able yet to give a definitive update on the death toll. The streets of N’Zerekore and Koule were calm Thursday, with residents reporting that people were going about their business as normal, although most shops remained closed.
Communal violence is common in the region, near the border with Liberia.