ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) - An angry mob of about 300 people stormed a U.N.-guarded refugee camp in Ivory Coast on Friday, killing at least seven of the refugees and looting the shelters before burning them down, officials said.
About 90 percent of the Nahibly camp, which used to house some 4,500 people, was burnt to ashes in the attack near the western town of Duekoue, said the U.N. refugee agency's country representative Ann Encontre.
Most of the camp residents fled to the surrounding forest to escape the attackers, she said. A number of residents were wounded, but exact figures were not immediately available.
One camp dweller was killed with a machete and three are presumed to have died from gunshot wounds. A fifth victim died in the raging fire, she added. Information on the two additional deaths as well as injuries was not immediately available.
Pere Cyprien Ahoure, coordinator of humanitarian activities at the Catholic mission in Duekoue, said nine deaths had been confirmed at the refugee camp and that the total could be even higher.
He said more than 100 people had sought refuge at the mission, but that others were being prevented from entering by a crowd formed of people who had been involved in the attack.
Ivorian officials said the attack came in response to the killing of four residents of nearby Duekoue town Thursday night, which locals blamed on camp dwellers after the attackers reportedly fled there.
The UNHCR camp housed people displaced by the violence that erupted after the West African nation's disputed November 2010 election. Thousands were killed in the postelection violence.
Friday's gruesome attack reflects the country's persistent political tensions between supporters of former ousted President Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to accept defeat at the polls in 2010, and the loyalists of democratically elected President Alassane Ouattara.
The four people killed in the Thursday attack belonged to an ethnic group that largely backed Ouattara, and the camp mostly houses Gbagbo supporters.
The U.S. Embassy in Ivory Coast issued a statement condemning the violence.
"The United States also calls for an immediate investigation into the causes of these violent incidents and for the (government) to hold responsible parties accountable."
Meanwhile, there were conflicting reports about the role of security forces that failed to protect the camp.
Resident Iro Firmin was among those accusing the military of using the killings on Thursday night as a pretext to eradicate the camp.
"It was a planned action," Firmin claimed. "They did it because they wanted all the displaced people to go back home."
But army spokesman Cherif Moussa said soldiers prevented the situation from escalating.
"The situation did not become dramatic because of the (army's) presence," he said.
Duekoue was the site of the most lethal episode of the 2010-11 postelection violence. Hundreds of residents were killed with guns, knives and machetes in one neighborhood in March last year.
A U.N. investigation has established that "at least 505" people were killed in Duekoue and the surrounding villages during the postelection violence.
Meanwhile, most of the refugees remained in hiding late Friday, with Encontre saying the agency will try to assist them once they return.
"We're taking stock of what is available in terms of fortified biscuits and tents, but the people are a bit scattered in the forests," she said.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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