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Red Cross:  As Many as 600 Killed After Violence in Nigeria’s Central Plateau - 2004-05-07

Red Cross officials in Nigeria said that civilians injured in recent sectarian violence in central Plateau state are too scared to seek medical treatment outside their town. The Red Cross estimates as many as 600 people may have been killed in attacks on the town of Yelwa by Christian tribe militias in the past week.

Red Cross workers who have made it to the town of Yelwa in central Plateau state, the scene of deadly revenge attacks by Christian ethnic Tarok militias earlier this week, said that they are having difficulty evacuating hundreds of people suffering from gunshot and machete wounds.

Coordinator Abubakar Kende said that they are too frightened to evacuate to the main hospital of nearby Shendam, because they believe there are militias still roaming the area.

"There are still issues related to insecurity in the place," he said. "There are still some armed youths kind of moving around in the area. One other concern that we have there is that the people are not very willing to come to Shendam. They have some opinion that the Shendam people were the people attacking them."

Mr. Kende added that Red Cross officials are now negotiating with state and local government officials to have the injured evacuated to hospitals in other nearby states.

He said that Red Cross officials are focusing on helping the injured and have yet to determine the exact number of dead.

On Thursday, news agencies quoted Red Cross officials who went to Yelwa as saying they found a mass grave and estimate that as many as 600 people have died in the raids.

Earlier this year, more than 300 people died in armed clashes between the mainly cattle-herding Hausa community and the Tarok, who are usually farmers. The two communities compete over land, cattle and political power.

The cycle of violence dates back to 2001, when more than 1000 people were killed in the state capital Jos over similar ethnic rivalries.

The executive director of the Nigerian Civil Liberties Organization, Chima Ubani, said that the government should try to encourage dialogue to end the violence.

"There doesn't seem to be any solution on the part of the government and each time it comes up, it's as if it's coming up for the first time," he said. "Basically, the principle of dialogue is what is required and that principle of dialogue has to start from the very local level. A forum must be created for the contending groups."

The Associated Press reports from Yelwa, a mediation committee, appointed by President Olusegun Obasanjo and led by a Muslim, was rejected by Christian leaders in the region.

The central government sent several hundred police reinforcements to the area earlier this week and officials say calm has been restored.