ABIDJAN  - At least three people were killed and about twenty others were injured during two days of clashes in Ivory Coast’s eastern region of Arrah, an official and residents said on Tuesday. The violence was sparked by frustrations over the continued policing of the area by former northern rebels and degenerated into ethnic clashes, underscoring security challenges faced by President Alassane Ouattara, almost a year after taking office. “Calm returned last night and it stayed calm thanks to reinforcements from the United Nations soldiers,” said Jean Bouadou, mayor of the town of Arrah.

“There are three dead - two from bullet wounds and one from machetes - and about twenty injured,” he added.

Locals were protesting against former rebel FRCI soldiers - who helped bring Ouattara, a northerner, to power during last year’s post-election conflict - rather than gendarmes providing security in the region.

Residents said violence then broke out between Agni, an ethnic group from the area, and northern Malinke people.

Bouadou said that houses and shops were ransacked and people had fled the town in fear.

Defence minister Paul Koffi Koffi was due to travel to the area on Tuesday.

“The situation has calmed down but there are lots of dead and injured,” said Seraphin Bony, a resident.

“It is the FRCI reserves that are the root of the problem. They do not get on with the local population, which thinks that they aren’t real soldiers and they should leave and be replaced by gendarmes,” he said.

Ouattara won a December 2010 election but incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refuse to cede power, leading to a four-month conflict that killed some 3,000 people.

Rebels who had controlled the north of the country for almost a decade sided with Ouattara in the conflict and were backed by UN and French soldiers fighting Gbagbo loyalists.

Military reform and reconciliation are Ouattara’s biggest challenges as he seeks to rebuild the world’s top cocoa grower.