CONAKRY, 21 July (IRIN) - The government has sent soldiers to calm inter-ethnic tensions in Kankan, a city 600 km east of the capital Conakry, following the murder of a Malinke (Mandingo) youth in the early hours of Thursday morning, local officials told IRIN.
The 20-year old youth was shot dead by a trader from the Peul ethnic group who thought the intruder entering his compound was a thief.
"Had the authorities not moved swiftly in Kankan this morning, it would have been a catastrophe," a local councillor in Kankan who declined to be named told IRIN by telephone.
Kankan, which is a stronghold of the Malinke ethnic group, was very tense on Thursday, the source said.
Malinke youths were searching "every corner" of the town for Peuls to attack, he added.
Other residents in Kankan said soldiers were deployed to the scene of the shooting, which took place in the M'balia quarter, and the city centre.
Scores of angry Malinke youths had been arrested as well as the Peul trader who fired the fatal shot, they added.
The state-run local radio station had begun transmitting special programmes to try to calm the situation, journalists at Radio Kankan told IRIN.
The Peul and the Malinke are the two main ethnic groups in Guinea, accounting for 40 percent and 30 percent of the population respectively, according to US government statistics.
For the most part, the two groups live side-by-side peacefully.
But ethnicity plays a major role in national politics, with political parties grouped along ethnic lines rather than political ideology.
President Lansana Conte, who came to power in a coup in 1984, is from the Soussou ethnic group that makes up only 10 percent of the population - according to the US government - but can be found in positions of power and authority across the country.
A recent report by Brussels-based think tank, the International Crisis Group (ICG), warned that Guinea was on the brink of collapse and could become the next failed state in West Africa.
Conte, who has ruled the country with an iron hand for 21 years is seriously ill, suffering from acute diabetes and suspected heart disease.
He has no obvious successor and the opposition is weak and divided.
The ICG report echoed the long-held fears of diplomats in West Africa that Guinea could collapse into civil strife once Conte dies or is forced to quit power.
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