Two men are dead in an Algerian desert city best by ethnic tensions and poverty, and local elders say the area is reaching a breaking point.

White-clad mourners crowded the streets on Friday for one of the dead, a 39-year-old Berber father of two who was so disfigured in a street clash in the Sahara city of Ghardaia that it took more than a day to identify him.

The city is divided between Algeria's Mozabites, members of North Africa's original Berber inhabitants and followers of the rare Ibadi sect of Islam on one hand, and Sunni Muslim Arab migrants.

Algeria's government last month sent around 3,000 police to stabilize the situation, but some in the Berber community say the government presence has only inflamed matters.