Three killed in sectarian clashes in Algerian city

Tensions have been high between the Arab and Berber communities for the past few months in Ghardaia

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Calm returned to the picturesque Algerian desert city of Ghardaia Monday after weekend clashes between Arabs and Berbers left three dead, dozens injured and homes and businesses burned, reported residents and the state news agency.

The UNESCO world heritage site in the desert some 600 kilometers (370 miles) south of Algiers, is home to both Algerian Arabs and the ancient Mozabite Berber community that speaks its own language and follows its own school of Islam. Tensions have been high between the communities for the past few months.

“Everything is closed and the people are afraid,” said local human rights activist Kamel Eddine Fekhar. “I am afraid the situation will get worse this afternoon after the burial of the three Arab victims.”

After about a month of calm, clashes between gangs of young men from the two communities erupted anew on Wednesday after Mozabite families attempted to return to homes they had fled earlier, according to Hamou Mosbah, a local official in the opposition Socialist Front.

The three men from the Arab community died in clashes Saturday night from “blunt metal objects,” according to the state news agency, citing the local hospital. Since the fighting restarted Wednesday, 62 people have been wounded, including four disfigured with acid. Some 64 homes and businesses have been attacked and burned, the agency said, along with the headquarters of the ruling party.

The two communities compete over limited jobs, land and housing in the impoverished south. Clashes first erupted in December and five Mozabites were killed before violence was stopped by a heavy police deployment in late January.

Acting Prime Minister Youcef Yousfi and other officials met community leaders on Sunday and a police investigation into the killing was announced.

“Calm will be re-established starting from today,” Minister of Interior Tayeb Belaiz said.