Madagascar hunts gang… after 32 killed in fires

Army helicopters have been deployed in Madagascar to search for a criminal gang that killed at least 32 people by setting fire to their homes.

The police said the people were forced inside three thatched houses that were then set ablaze.

Women and children were among the victims of Friday’s attack in Ankazobe district, north of the capital, Antananarivo.

The defence minister blamed cattle rustlers known locally as “dahalo”.

Cattle theft – and the efforts to stop it – have led to extremely violent confrontations in recent years.

Footage from the village of Ambolotarakely, which is located on a small hill in Ankazobe district, showed homes that had been burnt to the ground with just parts of the walls still standing.

The minister of defence, who visited the area after the attack, said he suspected the community had been targeted for providing information to officials during a previous security operation against the gang.

“We will hunt down those who committed this crime and their accomplices,” General Richard Rakotonirina said.

He also visited those in hospital, where three remained in intensive care.

Situated off the southeast coast of Africa, Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. Having developed in isolation, the island nation is famed for its unique wildlife.

Traditionally, the Malagasy economy has been based on the cultivation of paddy rice, coffee, vanilla and cloves.

But, despite a wealth of natural resources and a tourism industry driven by its unique environment, the country remains one of the world’s poorest, and is heavily dependent on foreign aid.

Since gaining independence from France in 1960, Madagascar has experienced repeated bouts of political instability, including coups, violent unrest and disputed elections.

The most recent coup in 2009 led to five years of political deadlock, international condemnation and economic sanctions.

Businessman Andry Rajoelina took office as president in January 2019, ending a decade of political turbulence that began with his ousting of President Marc Ravalomanana in 2009.

The feud between the two men came to a head that year, when President Ravalomanana dismissed Mr Rajoelina as mayor of the capital, Antananarivo. -BBC

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