CONAKRY, Guinea – Guinea's military on Wednesday declared a state of emergency, further restricting civilian movement and giving the army permission to deploy in civilian areas as security forces continued to target members of the Peul ethnic group following a tense presidential election.
The decree read on state TV by the head of the country's armed forces said the law would be in effect until Guinea's Supreme Court rules on whether to validate the provisional results from the election.
Politician Cellou Dalein Diallo, who is contesting the results, lost to a candidate from the Malinke ethnic group. A Peul, Diallo is overwhelmingly backed by members of his own ethnicity, just as his opponent was backed by his. Since the announcement of the results, angry Peul youths have burned tires, barricaded roads and pillaged the homes of Malinke neighbors.
The mostly Malinke police in Guinea reacted with force taking over troubled neighborhoods that now look like ghost towns. Bullet casings and smoldering tires litter roads. Few residents venture outside. Reports of police brutality by a specially created election security force known as the Fossepel against Peul citizens are multiplying. At least six people have been killed and 62 injured since results were announced Monday night.
Doctors say a majority of those taken to the main municipal hospital in Conakry came in with bullet wounds, even though the Fossepel is not supposed to be armed.
The government decree now explicitly gives the army, who carry automatic weapons, the right to enter civilian areas to ensure that the state of emergency is respected, said Mohamed Kasse, a government spokesman.
Kasse said a state of emergency means there can be no gatherings of people, or rallies. He said Guineans are allowed to go to work, but can only go one at a time. "It's to secure the population," he said.
The red beret-wearing soldiers are deeply feared in Guinea after an army-led massacre of civilians last year. The slaughter, which occurred when the military sealed the doors of the national soccer stadium and then opened fire on protesters gathered to demand an end to army rule, was so horrific it is now the subject of an examination by the International Criminal Court. The head of the military regime was forced into exile, and his second-in-command agreed to hand over power to civilians in the recent election.
The silent areas where the capital's Peul live contrasted sharply Wednesday with the rest of the city, which was open for business. In Malinke strongholds, supporters of Malinke candidate Alpha Conde, who won with 52.5 percent of the vote, danced in front of speakers blasting campaign songs. There were no restrictions on their movements.
On a road that connects a neighborhood of the Soussou — a smaller ethnicity that also voted for Conde and is now allied with the Malinke — groups of men stood on the side of the street. They held up clubs, sticks, pieces of wood and machetes.
"We are arming ourselves to protect ourselves against the Peul," said Mohamed Camara, a Soussou.
Observers fear that if the violence in Guinea gets out of hand, it could spill over and destabilize its fragile neighbors, all of which have large communities of both ethnic groups.
The ethnic tension has already sparked clashes in neighboring Sierra Leone where police arrested 20 people for rioting following clashes between Peul and Malinke, said Assistant Inspector General of Police Sorie Kargbo.
Guinea borders Sierra Leone and Liberia, nations recovering from wars fueled by ethnic divisions. For decades Guinea was a counterpoint to these two nations, with Peul and Malinke not only living side-by-side but also frequently intermarrying.
Associated Press writer Clarence Roy-Macaulay contributed to this report from Freetown, Sierra Leone.
(This version corrects name of spokesman — Kasse not Kaffe.)