NOSY BE, Madagascar (AFP) - A mob in Madagascar lynched two Europeans and a local man on Thursday suspecting them of murdering a young boy for his organs, the authorities and witnesses said.
Residents on the tourist island of Nosy Be island went on a day-long rampage after a missing eight-year-old was reportedly found dead.
"Rioters launched a manhunt and killed the Europeans," in the early hours of the morning, gendarmerie commander Guy Bobin Randriamaro told AFP.
Hours later in a near-by suburb, a Malagasy was also killed, as mobs of hundreds of men roamed the streets, shuttering shops and setting fires.
According to an AFP correspondent the victim was dragged from a vehicle and his body thrown onto a fire.
The two Europeans were identified only as Sebastien and Roberto.
Local officials said both men were French, witnesses said one may have been Italian.
In Paris, Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said "two foreigners have died and we have confirmation that at least one of them is French".
Local police commissioner Honoya Tilahizandry said the men "were killed and burnt on Ambatoloaka beach", a popular palm-fringed stand ringed by bars and hotels.
Gory pictures taken after the lynching showed a mound of ash, wood and iron bars, with a torso and pair of charred legs the only recognisable remains.
"They suspected the two foreigners of being behind the murder and trafficking human organs," said the gendarmerie's Randriamaro.
The two men "confessed under torture to having trafficked organs", he added.
Lying off the northern coast of Madagascar, the islet of Nosy Be is a magnet for European tourists who flock to the white sand beaches and seafood restaurants.
Residents said the island had been tense for days before the mob attacks amid rumours of children disappearing.
A local Italian restaurant owner, who asked not to be named, said residents "exploded in anger" when they heard about the discovery of the child's body.
"There's no doubt that some children have disappeared. People have been talking about it for several days and notices were posted, with photos everywhere," he told AFP.
Residents marched on the paramilitary police station on Wednesday, convinced one of the boy's killers was being held there.
Security forces say they fired shots in the air to disperse the crowd, but at least one person died and two others were wounded.
"The police tried to convince the mob that the alleged kidnapper was not at the station, but it was not enough to dissuade the crowd," said national police spokesman Alexandre Sylvain Ranaivoson.
The mob also torched eight houses.
The restaurant owner said one of the European victims lived on the island, spoke Italian with a mixed French-Sicilian accent and kept to himself.
The attack threatens to dent tourism in Madagascar, one of the few bright spots in an economy plagued by political strife.
The country was hit with international sanctions after a 2009 coup.
The French consulate discouraged its nationals from visiting Nosy Be island and asked they remain indoors "until order is restored, especially on the beaches".
Malagasy leader Andry Rajoelina condemned the "barbaric" attacks "firmly and categorically".
He called on the security forces to take control and launch an investigation.
Mob justice is common on the island nation which authorities struggle to police effectively.
When a French nun was found strangled in the north-eastern town of Mandritsara in March, the community marched on the prison where her supposed murderers were kept, demanding to kill the three.
The Madagascar National Tourism Board said ordinary visitors had nothing to fear from travelling to the country as the men had been targeted specifically.
"The population is aware of the importance of maintaining order for tourism," said director Vola Raveloson.