Ethnic fault line underlying Guinea’s recent election
CONAKRY: A puddle of blood runs down a sloping road here where children once raced "cars," towing boxes of sardines on strings. It was so large that neighbors tried to cover it with sand.
The stain marked the spot where a young man from the Peul ethnic group was shot dead by police of another ethnicity. It also marks how this African country of 10 million which was once held up as a model of ethnic tolerance has taken a turn toward hate.
After a contested presidential election this month, Guinea's armed forces aligned themselves with the Malinke group, from which the new president comes. Platoons of soldiers invaded Peul neighborhoods, bludgeoned families and rounded up hundreds for arrest, leaving at least seven dead. Text messages saying the army planned to "eliminate the Peul" began circulating, leading private cell phone providers to temporarily cut off their text messaging service. The targeting of one ethnicity threatens a region where Guinea has long acted as a buffer against its neighbors and has jealously guarded its reputation as a dot of relative peace on a map of war. But more worrying still is the fact that the security forces themselves, who are largely Malinke, are taking part in the violence against the Peul.
"If it was just between us, we could defend ourselves," said Moustapha Diallo, in a Peul neighborhood where you could crunch bullet casings underfoot. "But against the soldiers, what can we do? They have arms. We have rocks."
The ethnic fault line underlying Guinea's recent election was exposed during the first round of voting in June, when the field of 24 candidates was narrowed to Peul candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo and Malinke politician Alpha Conde, pitting the country's two largest ethnicities against each other.
Each group is estimated at around 35 percent of the population, according to census officials. On the morning of Nov. 15, as word spread that Diallo had lost, his supporters began burning tires, throwing rocks at passing cars and setting fire to the homes of Malinke neighbors.
The response was immediate and brutal. Over the next three days, security forces systematically attacked Peul communities, spraying populated areas with bullets. They burst into homes where they beat, slapped, stabbed and burned people. Multiple witnesses said police and soldiers shouted slurs directed at the community, including "We're going to finish the Peul!" and "You Peul bastards, you thought you'd win the election?"
In front of an AP reporter, police grabbed a 40-year-old Peul man trying to cross the street near a Malinke house that had been set on fire hours earlier. They dragged him to their pickup, where an officer took off his fiberglass helmet and beat the man over the head with it until blood ran down his temple. Also in view of a reporter, soldiers bludgeoned a Peul teenager and kicked him with their boots, as he lay on his back trying to cover his head. The hospital where most of the victims were taken said they treated 251 people, including 86 with bullet wounds. Among them was a boy who had been shot in the groin, a 1-year-old with a bullet lodged in her throat and a man whose intestines were sliced in two by a shot to his stomach. Nearly all the patients were Peul, according to doctors at Donka National Hospital and a tour of the hospital's wards.
On Nov. 16 and 17, Peul neighborhoods in the capital looked like ghost towns as people cowered behind locked doors. Several witnesses said they saw soldiers and riot police take aim at people who were doing little more than standing in front of their homes or walking quietly.
Cherif Diallo, who was shot through the knee, said he only ventured outside to go to the bathroom. When he stepped into the street, his legs buckled under him. -Ap
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