At least sixteen people have been burned alive or hacked to death with machetes, while dozens more have been wounded after two days of ethnic clashes took place in Guinea. Meanwhile in Mali, the body of French hostage Philippe Verdon, who was kidnapped in Mali in 2011 and found dead several weeks ago, has been flown back to Paris on Wednesday after tests confirmed his identity.
The violence in the West African state broke out in the southern forest region early on Monday when petrol station guards from the Guerze tribe in the town of Koule beat to death an ethnic Konianke youth whom they had accused of stealing. Fighting rapidly spread to the nearby provincial capital of N’Zerekore, which is located 570 kilometers (350 miles) southeast of Conakry. Several homes have been destroyed as a result of the fighting. According to Alert Damatang Camara, who is a government spokesman, “the violence recorded since Monday in Koule, and then in N’Zerekore, has left 16 people dead and some 80 wounded.” He further indicated that security forces have been deployed “en masse” to the affected regions and that calm was beginning to return to the streets. During a televised address to the nation, Guinea’s President called for calm and unity and has promised to bring those behind the violence to justice.
A number of witnesses have reported that members of the Guerzes and Koniankes tribes have been attacking one another with machetes, axes, sticks, stones and firearms, and that some of the houses and cars in the region had been set on fire. Communal violence has been common in the region, which is located 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 are Muslims who are considered to be close to Liberia’s Mandingo ethnic community. During Liberia’s civil war, which concluded in 2003, rebels fighting the forces of then-president Charles Taylor drew much of their support from the Mandingo community. The Guerze, who are known as Kpelle in Liberia, were generally considered to be supporters of forces who were loyal to Taylor who was jailed last year for “aiding and abetting” war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
According to sources on the ground in Paris, France, relatives and loved ones of Mr. Verdon gathered in a private room at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport in order to retrieve the body, which was flown back on an Air France plane that landed around 0700 GMT. The French foreign ministry had announced on Sunday that Mr. Verdon’s body had likely been found at the beginning of July. This is months later after the 53-year-old’s captors had announced in March that they had killed him, however at the time, officials in Paris had never confirmed his death. On Tuesday, the French president’s office confirmed that the body found in northern Mali was that of Mr. Verdon, however no information surrounding the details of his death have been released. An autopsy has been scheduled in order to determine exactly how he died. Mr. Verdon was known to have suffered from an ulcer and tachycardia when he had left for Mali in 2011. According Pascal Lupart, head of a support committee for Mr. Verdon, “for us, its possible that Philippe died because of his illnesses and that AQIM used this and staged a killing.”