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Guinea violence, intimidation displaces thousands, officials say

By Joe Penney, For CNN
  • Ethnic Peul have been targeted, Red Cross and local officials say
  • The Peul and the Malinke support different candidates for president
  • The long-delayed second round of presidential elections is Sunday

Dabola, Guinea (CNN) -- Violence and voter intimidation in Guinea's eastern region has forced the displacement of thousands of ethnic Peul who support presidential candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo, according to an official for the Red Cross in Guinea and local officials of Diallo's party.

The West African nation's long-awaited, much-delayed second round presidential runoff between Diallo and Alpha Conde is scheduled for Sunday.

But more than a week of violence and intimidation that has forced thousands of people to leave their homes in the towns of Siguiri, Kouroussa and Kissidougou in eastern Guinea has soured what would be the nation's most credible democratic presidential vote in its 52-year history.

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Ananie Kashironge, head of media relations for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Conakry, the nation's capital, told CNN on Tuesday that 2,800 people were displaced on October 29 and 30 alone.

In addition, commercial trucks filled with ethnic Peul and all their possessions have been leaving the eastern towns of Siguiri (about 800 kilometers from Conakry) and Kouroussa (about 580 kilometers from Conakry) every day for the past 12 days, and local officials for Diallo's UFDG party say a total of 15,000 to 20,000 Peul have been displaced around the country.

Most of the displaced people have traveled west to the Fouta Djallon region, where they have relatives, the officials say.

After a rally for Conde in Conakry on October 22 in which dozens of supporters fell sick after drinking contaminated water and yogurt, ethnic Malinke people attacked Peul in Upper Guinea, especially in Siguiri and Kouroussa, for days. Those displaced spoke of Malinke men looting and burning Peul-owned businesses and demolishing homes where Peul lived in Siguiri.

Officials for Diallo's party said they registered the deaths of three Peul in Siguiri, one who had been fatally beaten and two who had died after being struck by stones.

Conde, whose father is from the Malinke ethnic group, draws much of his support from the majority Malinke region of Upper Guinea, where most of the violence happened.

Diallo, an ethnic Peul, has his base of supporters in the northwestern Fouta Djallon region.

Sabo Camara, the campaign director for the UFDG party in Dabola, a town on the border of the Fouta Djallon and Upper Guinea regions where many Peul have stayed or passed through, said the violence seemed planned.

"They don't want [the Peul] to vote and we heard that they even put out a communique on local radio saying that if [the Peul] stay there until election day they will kill all of them," Camara told CNN on Monday.

"We estimate that 15 to 20,000 people have passed through or stayed in Dabola" since October 22," he added. "Many told us that meetings had been organized, and razors and knives distributed to get rid of the Peul by force."

One displaced man said those who forced them out made no secret of the reason.

"They told us, 'Come election day not a single Peul will vote here,' which is why they chased us away," said Thierno Barry, who left Siguiri with his family and all their belongings and was heading for his village of origin in the Fouta Djallon region.

And a displaced Peul woman traveling from Siguiri who asked not to be named for safety reasons told a similar story.

"They gave out a list of people from the Peul ethnic group and said that they have to leave before the election or they will be killed," she said.

Camara said the authorities in Siguiri and Kouroussa, members of a military junta who has ruled Guinea since December, 2008, did not do anything to stop the violence.

"We are under the impression that the authorities are complicit. Otherwise how can there be such trouble for four, five days without the authorities intervening," he said.

Cheik Kaba, a Malinke businessman in Kankan, an upper Guinea city some 120 kilometers from Siguiri, told CNN that anti-Peul violence had spread to Kankan but had been contained because of local peace efforts.

Conakry supporters of Conde's RPG party "called us to say that [the Peul] poisoned RPG members. ... Everyone wanted to destroy everything here, but we reasoned with them and made them understand that it is our country and Guinea belongs to everyone, so they left them alone," Kaba said.

Dr. Mohamed Saliou Camara, professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida and author of a book on Guinea's independence leader, told CNN recently that "ethnicity becomes truly a problem when politicians resort to it to compensate for their lack of viable ideological platform and political program to meaningfully mobilize the electorate."

The number of displaced people has once again complicated efforts to hold a credible second round of presidential elections.

Siaka Toumani Sangare, the retired Malian general in charge of Guinea's electoral commission, told journalists at a press conference on Monday that the government was taking measures to ensure that those displaced will be able to vote.

But with thousands of displaced people now in remote villages with electoral cards left behind in Siguiri and Kouroussa, it will be very difficult for the inefficient Guinean government to reach all those affected.

"We are very scared because this is a dangerous precedent, a very dangerous precedent," Sabo Camara said. "If people who have lived in a place for 30 years, 40 years, 50 years, are told to leave the houses they have built, the businesses filled with their goods, it's really quite worrying."