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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Monday 24 October 2005

GUINEA: Dozens arrested after ethnic clashes in south-east

CONAKRY, 24 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - More than 50 people were in custody on Monday following ethnic clashes in the troubled Forest Region of Guinea, an officer involved in the operation said.

Long-simmering tensions between the Guerze ethnic group, who are Christian and consider themselves to be the rightful inhabitants of the region, and Muslim Konianke settlers burst into the open in the main city Nzerekore on Wednesday, sparked by a row over a religious celebration.

Ten people were injured, two of them seriously, and several houses sacked in the Gonia neighbourhood, the town's mayor Cece Loua told IRIN.

Wednesday's violence erupted after Koniankes complained that the music from a Guerze baptism ceremony was disturbing prayers at a nearby mosque.

Two days later, a video store was burned down as repercussions bubbled on.

Soldiers from the elite intervention unit, known as rangers, deployed on the streets and fired off tear gas to restore calm. Several guns were seized and a curfew was imposed.

"We arrested about 100 people," said Joseph Millimono, a ranger who took part in the operation. "We have let some go but there are still 56 in custody."

Last week's clashes were not the first to have blown up in Nzerekore, which lies about 850 km from the capital Conakry in south-eastern Guinea, near the borders with Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire.

Aside from their religious differences, the two ethnic groups also backed opposing sides during the 14-year civil war in neighbouring Liberia.

Many of the Guerze sympathised with former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who belongs to their own ethnic group, while the Konianke tended to support their rebel kin.

Residents were roped into fighting for both sides, and aid workers say that although the militias have been disbanded, many of the youths still have their guns and are now idle and impatient.

Some analysts argue that a comprehensive disarmament and reintegration programme is needed as an escalation of violence in the Forest Region could spark a generalised meltdown across the West African nation.



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