Rioting hits Guinea towns as ethnic tensions rise

AP News
Posted: Oct 25, 2010 10:42 AM
Rioting hits Guinea towns as ethnic tensions rise

Members of the Malinke ethnic group rioted in four towns in Guinea, killing one man and leaving Peul-owned stores in ruins as ethnic violence spread from the capital amid stalled presidential elections.

Tensions are rising in the African nation with a presidential runoff between two candidates _ one Peul, the other Malinke _ being delayed. The U.N. said last week some of the violence in the capital appears to be ethnically motivated. At least one person was killed and 62 were hurt last week in the capital.

In the northern village of Siguiri, one man was killed by machete-wielding Malinkes, a relative of the victim told The Associated Press. Local radio is reporting that stores owned by Peuls in Siguiri, Kankan, N'Zerekore and Kissidougou were vandalized by Malinkes during the weekend.

Guinea's election chief on Friday called off Sunday's presidential runoff _ the second delay of the crucial vote. This bauxite-rich West African country has never freely elected its own leader since it won independence from France in 1958.

Electoral chief Siaka Toumani Sangare, a Malian who was appointed after his predecessor died of illness in September, did not say when a new date would be announced. The appointment of a foreigner to the key post was aimed at ending ethnic discord over the makeup of the electoral commission.

Presidential candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo is a Peul, which despite being the country's largest ethnic group has never had one of its own in power. His rival, Alpha Conde, is a Malinke _ a group heavily represented in the army and in the junta blamed for a September 2009 massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in the capital, Conakry.

During protests last week in Conakry, security forces fired at unarmed protesters _ shooting some at point-blank range, the Geneva-based U.N. human rights office said Friday. The U.N. said authorities severely beat protesters and arbitrarily detained an unknown number of people and kept them in undisclosed locations. Among the victims was a 7-year-old schoolboy who was shot in the head by a stray bullet and remains in a coma.

The U.N. agency said some of those responsible for the violence appear to belong to a special police unit charged with safeguarding the election.

Security forces are feared in Guinea. On Sept. 28, 2009, soldiers sealed off the exits to the national soccer stadium where tens of thousands of protesters had gathered to demand an end to military rule. The troops entered and opened fire with assault rifles. A U.N. commission said 156 people were killed or disappeared and at least 109 women were raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence, which may constitute crimes against humanity. The Peul were explicitly targeted.

The U.N. human rights office said some of the violence last week appears to be ethnically motivated.