Scores displaced in Guinea land grab row
Conakry - Over 100 people have sought refuge in a church in south-eastern Guinea after violence broke out in their village over attempts by authorities to forcibly expropriate their land, a spokesman said on Wednesday.
Witnesses and humanitarian organisations said up to 115 people have been housed in the Nzerekore cathedral since the violence broke out on July 28, when they refused to give up their land to the Guinean palm oil and rubber company (Soguipah).
According to witnesses contacted by AFP, Soguipah went into the area in early July with heavy machinery to open roads to the contested land, destroying villagers' rice fields, coffee and rubber plantations.
On July 28, police officials were dispatched by regional authorities to issue a notice of expropriation to the villagers. Clashes broke out and several farmers and community leaders were arrested.
"Since 1987, the state has been trying to rob us of our land to give it to Soguipah. And since we have no where to go we have been fighting this for three decades," said Bangaly Conde, a spokesman for the villagers.
"The government must realise that we will not give away our land, which we inherited from our ancestors."
Fearing fresh violence, many fled the village and sought refuge in the church. Several were injured in the clashes, the witnesses said.
"They came here for protection in the hope that those chasing them won't profane the house of God," according to a member of the Catholic Organisation for Human Protection, which is assisting the deplaced.
Neither Soguipah nor any official source contacted by AFP wanted to comment on the matter.
Speaking on French international radio on Tuesday, Communication Minister Dirus Diale Dore said that "everything has returned to normal" in the area.