Antananarivo – A village in Madagascar where a criminal gang killed dozens of people has been left deserted after survivors fled fearing fresh attacks, a rights group said Monday, as police made the first arrests.
Authorities were still on the hunt for bandits who burnt alive 32 people, including women and 15 children on Friday, setting homes on fire in the village of Ambolotarakely, 75km (47 miles) north of Antananarivo.
A source within the gendarmerie in the surrounding Ankazobe area said five people suspected of having ties to the gang were arrested on Monday in connection with the crime.
Police have blamed criminal groups of cattle rustlers, known as dahalos, for the massacre, although motives are still unclear.
Seth Andriamarohasina, who heads the Independent National Commission for Human Rights (CNIDH) said security forces were patrolling the village, which sits on a small hill a 10-hour walk from the nearest police station.
“It’s a ghost town now, all the inhabitants have left for fear of the dahalos,” Andriamarohasina, who visited the area on Sunday, told AFP by phone upon returning to the capital.
He said local authorities believed a land dispute might have triggered the violence.
A source at Madagascar’s ministry of defence told AFP the victims belonged to two families, with a preliminary investigation suggesting the attack was “premeditated”.
Television footage from the scene showed the three houses completely burnt down, with only parts of the walls still standing.
Authorities have said military helicopters and ground troops have been deployed in the search for the suspects.
“It is an act of unacceptable violence, and it must be punished very severely,” said defence minister General Richard Rakotonirina. “We are actively looking for authors”.