Six die, more made homeless by ethnic conflict in west

Six people were killed on Monday in a fresh outbreak of ethnic violence in the troubled west of Cote d'Ivoire, a spokesman for the French peacekeeping force said on Wednesday.

A further sign of continuing tension in the area was the recent arrival of 200 more Burkinabe immigrant farmers in an already overcrowded camp for displaced people in the nearby town of Guiglo, a relief worker in Guiglo told IRIN by telephone.

Colonel Georges Peillon, the spokesman for France's 4,000-strong peacekeeping force in Cote d'Ivoire, said French troops discovered the bodies of six people after they were called to the village of Kahin near the government-held town of Bangolo, close to the frontline with rebel forces that control the north of the country.

Peillon said three of the dead were Burkinabe, two were Guineans and one belonged to the Baoule tribe of central Cote d'Ivoire.

The village of Kahin is mainly inhabited by the Guere tribe, which is native to the area. Since Cote d'Ivoire plunged into civil war in September 2002, there have been repeated ethnic clashes between the Guere and immigrants from other parts of the country and from neighbouring West African states, who have settled in the area to grow cocoa.

This violence has continued despite a ceasefire which has held firm in the rest of the country since last May and despite the presence of large numbers of French peacekeepers in the area.

Peillon quoted the inhabitants of Kahin as saying a group of men armed with machetes and hunting rifles came from the south and attacked the village before dawn. He said they stole two trucks before going on to set fire to two neighbouring villages.

The French military spokesman added that shortly after Christmas two Guere farmers were killed in a similar clash in the nearby village of Bassoukro.

"For the time being, things have calmed down, but French forces have intensified their patrols," Peillon said, adding that ground patrols were being reinforced by helicopters flying overhead.

The relief worker in Guiglo, 75 km south of the area where the clashes were reported, said the latest influx of displaced Burkinabe immigrants had arrived last week from a different area to the west of Guiglo.

He said they had fled from the village of Troya 2 near Blolequin, 70 km west of Guiglo on the road to the Liberian border after rumours earlier in December that Burkinabe in the area where about to come under attack.

Guiglo hosts a camp for several thousand Liberian refugees, but the relief worker said the Burkinabe were being accommodated in a separate camp for people displaced by conflict within Cote d'Ivoire.

This camp had been designed to house up to 2,400 people, but it was now forced to accommodate 3,300, he told IRIN.