Guinea has for the first time admitted that 30 people died in days of violence following a constitutional referendum in the southeast of the West African state, but blamed the political opposition.
Clashes erupted in the town of Nzerekore on March 22, the day of the constitutional referendum that the opposition had boycotted over fears the vote was a ploy by President Alpha Conde to extend his grip on power.
Reports of the violence in Nzerekore, which is poorly connected to the rest of the country, were highly conflicting and difficult to confirm.
Local residents told AFP at the time, however, that religious and ethnic groups had clashed and that mosques and churches had been attacked in several days of violence.
Political opposition groups said that scores of people had been killed in gun or machete attacks, while the government played down the number of fatalities.
On Tuesday, the attorney general in the northern town of Kankan, Yaya Kairaba Kaba, gave the first clear account of the casualty toll.
In televised remarks, he said 30 people were killed and 67 were injured. Rioters also torched dozens of homes, shops, and small businesses, as well as three churches.
He accused Guinea’s umbrella opposition grouping FNDC of stoking the violence.
“It was local FNDC officials who planned the violence and fuelled tensions between communities,” he said, adding that the group had hired mercenaries from the capital Conakry, and from neighbouring Liberia.
The attorney general also said that authorities had arrested 44 suspects on charges of murder, arson, and criminal conspiracy, and were pushing to hold trials “as quickly as possible”.
Ibrahima Diallo, an FNDC official, on Wednesday accused the authorities of unfairly assigning collective responsibility to the opposition group in the former French colony.
“It is hard to understand why the arrests were made on one side and nobody was investigated on the other,” he said. “It’s a total injustice”.
Dozens of people over the past year have been killed in anti-government protests in Guinea, which human rights organisations have blamed on security forces in the poor nation of some 13 million people.