58 bodies identified after Guinea ethnic violence

CONAKRY (AFP) - A total of 58 bodies of victims of a sudden outbreak of ethnic violence in Guinea has been identified with help from the Red Cross, the government spokesman said.

"Calm has returned to the centre of N'Zerekore", the biggest town in the southern forest region, "where the army has been deployed. With the help of the Red Cross, we have identified 58 bodies", Albert Damantang Camara told journalists on Thursday night.

Camara said the task had been "difficult".

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) on Friday reported a return to calm and gave a toll of at least 57 dead, more than 160 wounded and hundreds of displaced people who had fled.

No further details were immediately available from the Red Cross.

The violence broke out Monday when Guerze tribesmen, who form the majority population in the forest region, beat up three ethnic Konianke in the town of Koule. Two of the victims later died of their wounds, leading to reprisals, according to the police.

Fighting spread to the provincial capital N'Zerekore, 570km southeast of Conakry, leaving at least 80 wounded and several homes, churches and mosques damaged or destroyed.

By Wednesday, clashes had also reached the town of Beyla, with rival sides using machetes, sticks, axes, stones and firearms.

"The clashes led to the death of at least 57 people, of whom three were decapitated with machetes, others cut to death or burned alive," UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville said in a press release.

"More than 163 people were wounded and hundreds of others were displaced and took refuge in the army camps at N'Zerekore et Beyla," 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.