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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 March 2007, 13:19 GMT
Ethnic violence flares in Vanuatu
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Marchers at the 50th anniversary of the mystical figure of John Frum
Superstition and the belief in black magic is common in Vanuatu
Almost 200 people have been arrested in Vanuatu after tribal violence flared amid claims of black magic.

Three people have been killed in the South Pacific island nation.

A state of emergency has been declared after fighting broke out at the Blacksands squatter camp on the outskirts of the capital, Port Vila.

The fighting - sparked by accusations that a sorcerer had used witchcraft to kill a rival - escalated rapidly and spread through the settlement.

Blacksands is home to thousands of people who have migrated to the capital from other parts of Vanuatu.

Villagers from the islands of Ambrym and Tanna fought with machetes and knives. Local police said the ethnic violence was the worst the Melanesian nation had ever seen.

It left three men dead and others seriously hurt. Dozens of people have been arrested, including a number of tribal chiefs.

map of Vanuatu

A state of emergency has been imposed and public meetings have been banned for the next two weeks.

The country's unarmed police officers have been given special permission to carry weapons just in case there is more trouble.

Many residents across Vanuatu's archipelago have been forbidden from travelling to Efate, the main island where Port Vila is located.

Chiefs' meeting

Although Christianity has strong roots in this corner of the South Pacific, witchcraft and superstition remain powerful forces.

On the island of Tanna villagers worship a mystical American called John Frum, while others believe that the husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is a god.

Vanuatu's Great Council of Chiefs is expected to meet next week to look at ways to defuse tensions between rival tribes in Port Vila.

Country profile: Vanuatu
01 Nov 06 |  Country profiles
In pictures: Vanuatu's cargo cult
17 Feb 07 |  In Pictures
Cargo cult lives on in South Pacific
17 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific

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