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Troops Sent to Restore Order in Nigeria's Plateau State - 2001-09-10

Gunfire continued Monday in Nigeria's Plateau State where fighting between Muslims and Christians has claimed at least 70 lives since Friday. Witnesses in Jos, the state capital, say the violence has tapered off since Saturday, when President Olusegun Obasanjo sent in troops to restore order.

Despite the heavy presence of soldiers and police, the attacks continued. The streets of the city of Jos remain largely deserted, but witnesses say Muslim and Christian fighters continued to seek each other out.

Military officials say soldiers and police have taken control of most of the city of four million people. Hundreds have fled their homes, many taking refuge at police stations in Jos.

The city has been under a dusk to dawn curfew and reports from the region say authorities have sealed off Plateau State.

The clashes broke out on Friday following months of growing tension between Christians of the Berom ethnic group, who are native to Plateau State and make up the majority; and Muslim Hausas or Fulanis, who have recently migrated to the region from surrounding areas. Relations between Christians and Muslims have deteriorated further since the government appointed a Muslim to head a poverty reduction program in the state.

Witnesses say the violence was touched off on Friday when a Christian woman went through a traffic barricade that had been set up around the city's main mosque. Bands of Christian and Muslim youths attacked one another using guns, clubs and machetes. A number of buildings were set on fire, including two churches and a mosque.

On Saturday, President Olusegun Obasanjo called the fighting a disgrace and appealed to religious leaders to stop the attacks. The government dispatched troops to the region, hoping to stave off violence of the scale that killed thousands of people in Kaduna last year following the introduction of the strict Islamic code known as Sharia.

Nigerian officials say at least 70 people have died in the fighting of recent days, but witnesses say they believe that number may be much higher.