Conde plays down Guinea violence

2010-11-18 20:15

Conakry - Alpha Conde, winner of Guinea's presidential election according to preliminary results, has played down ethnic tensions and appealed to rivals to abandon protests and help him rebuild the nation.

A local rights group warned on Thursday of the gravity of the ethnic conflict and residents in part of the country said gunfire had rung out again overnight.

Despite calls for calm from both candidates and abroad, the top bauxite exporter has suffered three days of violence since Conde was announced winner of a tight election race against former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo.

The violence, which has spread to towns outside the seaside capital, has seen Diallo's mainly Peul supporters clash with the security forces and Conde's predominantly Malinke backers.

"The situation has become very serious because the political conflict has become an ethnic conflict," said Thierno Maadjou Sow, president of the Guinean Human Rights Organisation.


The Peul and the Malinke make up about 40% and 35% of the country, respectively. Witnesses have reported gangs of youths on both sides arming themselves with machetes and vowing to defend their communities.

"I think people are exaggerating the ethnic problems in Guinea, I have always said Guineans want change. The vote has shown this," Conde told broadcaster France 24.

Guinea's government on Wednesday declared a state of emergency to try to halt the clashes, which a pan-African rights group says have killed at least 10 people and left more than 200 injured.

It was Guinea's first free poll since independence from France in 1958 and was meant to seal the return of civilians to power after nearly two years of military rule.

With a curfew in place, most of Conakry was calm overnight, except for continued trouble in Diallo's Peul-dominated strongholds in the Ratoma commune.

"We heard gunfire all night long. The children are terrified," a resident said from the Simbaya neighbourhood. It was not clear what motivated the gunfire. In past days security forces have been firing warning shots into the air but a hospital source has also reported victims of gunshot wounds.

"Those that aren't happy because their candidate has not been elected, I understand them, but I have to make them understand that smashing houses is not what will help develop the country," Conde said.