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Nigerian Police Report 80 Killed in Sectarian Clashes - 2004-05-04

Nigerian police say the latest upsurge of sectarian violence in the country's central plateau state has claimed at least 80 lives. The bloodletting between Muslim and Christian communities is in its third month.

Police counted more bodies on the empty streets in the mainly Muslim ethnic Hausa town of Yelwa Tuesday, trying to assess the carnage of an apparent revenge attack by Christian ethnic Tarok assailants.

Local media report three mosques and more than 1,000 homes were also destroyed in attacks that were carried out early Monday.

Last week, it was Hausa fighters who attacked the mainly Christian Tarok village of Kawo, burning churches and reportedly killing about 100 people.

Aid workers say the latest violence brings the death toll from three months of violence, which has been largely ignored outside the area, to more than 400.

Nigerian authorities routinely suppress information about ethnic or religious killings, because they believe such information sparks reprisals.

But the Nigeria researcher for U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, Carina Tertsakian, is harshly critical of the government's failure to put a stop to the violence. "One of the main reasons why it keeps recurring is because nobody is actually doing anything about it, either at the level of the state government in Plateau state, or indeed, at the level of the federal government," she said. "So, these conflicts have just been allowed to continue pretty much unchecked since about 2001, when around a thousand people were killed in just about a week."

She says, underlying the violence, which first erupted in the state capital Jos three years ago and spread from there, is a struggle for land ownership and political power.

Nigeria's government ordered an investigation into the violence in 2001, but never released its findings. In the past, it sent extra troops and relief aid to the region, following an outbreak of violence. Government officials contacted by VOA on the latest upsurge were not available to comment.

The Tarok are mainly farmers, who consider the Hausa traders and cattle herdsmen as outsiders, even though they co-existed peacefully for several generations during more oppressive colonial and military rule.