Hours after officials said the situation appeared to have calmed down, residents of Nzerekore said soldiers were shooting into the air on Sunday afternoon to try to disperse roving mobs of people armed with machetes and knives.
The trouble appears to have been sparked by a religious dispute but the town is in the home region of wounded junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara, and there are fears the dispute in the world’s top bauxite exporter may become politicised.
“We have been told of three dead,” said Mamady Kaba, a local official with RADDHO, a pan-African rights group. “The victims are from the two communities. Some are carrying machetes and knives. One was burned alive.”
“The conflict is between the Christian and Muslim communities there but it is starting to take on political dimensions. We need to make sure this situation doesn’t get out of hand as it could be very dangerous for the country.”
Kaba said that mostly Christian supporters of Camara appeared to be attacking Muslims in the town.
A police source said earlier on Sunday that at least one person had been killed in clashes that had taken place despite a curfew being imposed.
Residents reported gunfire for much of Saturday. The shooting started again late on Sunday after a lull.
“They are shooting again. The situation is still very tense,” said Salimou Kouyate, a resident who said there had been deaths and many injured people were being taken to hospital.
“The soldiers are firing warning shots to try to disperse the crowds.”
A government delegation is in the town, holding talks with leaders of both sides. A woman said she and dozens of other women and children had fled and were hiding in the bush or villages outside Nzerekore.
The dispute degenerated into violence last week after a Christian woman, accused of wearing indecent dress while passing Muslims at prayer, was attacked. In retaliation, Christians stoned Muslims trying to pray.
The region is sensitive as local people there have been angered by the sidelining from power of Camara, a member of one of the minority “forestier” ethnic groups of the region.
Camara, who has been held responsible by a U.N. report for the killings of more than 150 pro-democracy marchers in Conakry last September, is convalescing in Burkina Faso after suffering head wounds in a December 3 gun attack by an ex-aide.
Last month in Nigerian town Jos, more than 400 people were killed in clashes between Muslims and Christians. Reuters