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Guinea Counts Dead, Arrests Suspects as Calm Returns

FIILE - Opposition protesters carry sticks as they march along a street in Conakry, May 2013.
Authorities in Guinea on Thursday identified bodies of people hacked and burned to death and rounded up dozens of suspects after days of ethnic clashes killed 58 people and injured at least 160, officials said.

Residents said that towns in southeastern Guinea where the military has moved in to restore order were mostly calm after days of violence between rival communities.

The violence erupted after a man accused of being a thief was lynched on Sunday. It took place against a background of preparations for long-delayed legislative elections that are meant to end years of transition back to civilian rule after a 2008 military coup.

"We have identified 58 dead up until now but calm has returned," government spokesman Damantan Albert Camara said.

"The number of arrests has doubled," he added. "The security forces have detained about 100 people. Some of them were armed with machetes when they were arrested."

A local radio journalist, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said identifying the bodies had proved particularly challenging for authorities.

"Many were cut by machete and others were burned alive."

The clashes were between the mainly Christian or animist Guerze community, which is dominant in the southeast, and Konianke, who are mainly Muslim and come from further north but have settled in the region.

The two groups have clashed over the past decade, competing for influence in the fertile and mineral-rich region, which boasts iron ore, diamond and uranium deposits.

The area shares borders with Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone, all of whom endured conflicts that spilled over borders in recent decades.

The southeast forest region is home to former junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara and its capital Nzerekore, Guinea's second largest town, will likely play a decisive role in the elections.

Preparations for the vote have been marred by months of violent protests as the opposition accused President Alpha Conde, elected in a contested 2010 vote, of attempting to rig the poll.

The political rift has fueled tensions between the majority Peul ethnic group, which backs the opposition, and the Malinke, which support Conde.