Abidjan - At least 13 people were killed in clashes in the west Ivory Coast town of Duekoue and at a nearby camp for displaced people, residents said on Friday.
“I have counted at least nine dead in the camp for displaced people, most of them young men,” one resident told AFP by telephone. The number of bodies, which comes on top of four people already reported dead overnight, was confirmed by a local United Nations official and a journalist.
The four were killed overnight in Duekoue, triggering reprisals by youths who blamed a group of displaced people and burnt their nearby camp, residents said.
“An attack carried out on Thursday night in the Kokoma district of Duekoue, inhabited mostly by ethnic Malinke, claimed four lives,” a resident told AFP. Western security sources and a local journalist confirmed the toll.
These sources said youths from Kokoma had afterwards attacked a displaced persons' camp on the outskirts of town populated mainly by Guere people who fled there during the post-election crisis sparked by ex-president Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to admit defeat to current leader Alassane Ouattara.
The Malinke are seen as Ouattara supporters, while the Guere are considered to be pro-Gbagbo.
Several sources said that the youths were accompanied by soldiers and traditional hunters who serve as auxiliaries to the army.
“They went to the camp, first of all destroyed the entrance, then burned down the camp,” a security source said.
“There was panic here, people were fleeing the camp,” a resident said.
“Since this morning there has been shooting in the town and at the moment we can still hear shooting from the displaced persons' camp,” said an employee of the UN refugee agency, asking not to be named.
The UN mission in Ivory Coast was charged with guarding the camp.
Some displaced people sought refuge inside Duekoue's Roman Catholic mission, while others were wandering around the town looking for shelter, residents said.
Many also went the local hospital, a staff member there said.
“Several dozen people with knife wounds have already arrived. We are sending them to surgery,” he said.
No official casualty toll was immediately released.
A soldier said that the troops were looking for the “unidentified” people who had allegedly killed the four people in Duekoue. “We still haven't laid hands on them,” he said.
Long prone to serious ethnic tensions based on land disputes, the west of Ivory Coast remains the most unstable part of the country more than a year after the end of the post-electoral crisis of December 2010 to April 2011, which claimed some 3,000 lives, including hundreds in the Duekoue region.
Several villages came under attack in early June south of Duekoue, close to the border with Liberia. More than 20 people were killed, including seven UN peacekeeping troops from Niger serving with the UN mission in Ivory Coast. - Sapa-AFP