Guinea deploys troops as 17 killed in ethnic clashes

CONAKRY, July 17 Wed Jul 17, 2013 9:54pm IST

CONAKRY, July 17 (Reuters) - Guinea deployed security forces to towns in the southeast on Wednesday in a bid to stem three days of ethnic violence in the West African country in which at least 17 people have been killed, officials said.

Guinea's second city of Nzerekore and the surrounding region near the border with Ivory Coast have been gripped by clashes between local communities after a man accused of being a thief was lynched on Sunday.

Government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara said the toll rose to 17 after a death was reported on Wednesday in Beyla, a town near Nzerekore. About 90 people have been injured, he said.

"We fear that this toll will rise," Camara added.

After several days of fighting between ethnic gangs, residents said security forces arrived in Nzerekore, Beyla and nearby Koule, where the initial killing took place.

"The soldiers are trying to stop people from leaving their homes so they can try to control the situation," Nzerekore resident Ousmane Balde told Reuters.

The violence came shortly after Guinea's rival political parties agreed to hold legislative elections on Sept. 24 after months of deadlock and street protests, which often degenerated into ethnic clashes.

The poll is meant to be the final step in the return to civilian rule after a 2008 coup.

President Alpha Conde won a 2010 presidential election but his rivals accuse him of seeking to rig the legislative vote. Conde draws support from Guinea's second-largest ethnic group, the Malinke, while the opposition is backed by the Peul, who account for around 40 percent of the population.

Mineral-rich Guinea is the world's largest bauxite exporter, and mining firms have signed multi-billion dollar deals in a bid to secure untapped mineral riches, especially iron ore. However, political instability has led to some investment being frozen. (Reporting by Saliou Samb; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Daniel Flynn)

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