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DATE=6/6/99 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT NUMBER=2-250297 TITLE=NIGERIA ETHNIC CLASHES (L) BYLINE=JOHN PITMAN DATELINE=ABIDJAN CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: ETHNIC VIOLENCE IN SOUTHEASTERN NIGERIA HAS CLAIMED MORE LIVES OVER THE WEEK-END. REPORTS FROM THE TOWN OF WARRI -- SOME 300 KILOMETERS SOUTHEAST OF LAGOS -- SAY MORE THAN A DOZEN PEOPLE HAVE BEEN KILLED IN CLASHES BETWEEN RIVAL ETHNIC GROUPS. AS V-O-A'S JOHN PITMAN REPORTS FROM OUR WEST AFRICAN BUREAU, THESE LATEST CLASHES BRING THE WEEK'S DEATH TOLL IN THE AREA TO MORE THAN 200. TEXT: THE TOWN OF WARRI IS NO STRANGER TO ETHNIC CONFLICT. OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS HUNDREDS OF ITS RESIDENTS HAVE BEEN KILLED IN RUNNING BATTLES BETWEEN THE IJAW AND ITSEKIRI ETHNIC GROUPS. THE MOST RECENT ROUND OF VIOLENCE BEGAN LAST FRIDAY AND INVOLVED A THIRD ETHNIC GROUP -- THE URHOBOS. ACCORDING TO NEWS REPORTS AND EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS FROM WARRI, URHOBO YOUTHS, POSSIBLY WORKING WITH IJAW MILITANTS, ATTACKED AN ITSEKIRI NEIGHBORHOOD KILLING AT LEAST A DOZEN PEOPLE -- INCLUDING A 75-YEAR-OLD MAN AND SETTING FIRE TO A NUMBER OF HOUSES. THE CAUSE OF THE VIOLENCE REMAINS UNCLEAR, BUT SEVERAL THEORIES HAVE BEEN PUT FORWARD BY THE PROTAGONISTS. IN A TELEPHONE INTERVIEW WITH V-O-A, ITSEKIRI LEADER PATRICK FREGENE SAID THE FIGHTING WAS SPARKED BY THE SWEARING-IN ON THURSDAY OF THREE ETHNIC ITSEKIRI LOCAL GOVERNMENT CHAIRMEN. MR. FREGENE SAID THE CHAIRMEN WERE ALL ELECTED LAST DECEMBER IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS -- BUT HE SAYS BECAUSE THEY WERE ITSEKIRIS THE IJAWS AND URHOBOS DECIDED TO DISRUPT INAUGURATION WITH VIOLENCE. //INSERT FREGENE ACT// THEY CONTESTED ELECTION UNDER THE PLATFORM OF THE REGISTERED POLITICAL PARTIES IN NIGERIA AND THEY WON. AND OF COURSE, THE URHOBOS AND THE IJAWS THEY WANTED A SITUATION WHERE THEY WOULD NOT BE SWORN IN BECAUSE IF THAT HAPPENED THEY FEARED THAT THEIR POLITICAL IDENTITY HAD BEEN LOST. //END ACT// FOR THEIR PART, THE URHOBOS SAY THE ITSEKIRIS PROVOKED THE VIOLENCE BY ATTACKING FIRST. IN AN INTERVIEW WITH THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY AN URHOBO LEADER COMPARED THE ITSEKIRI ACTION TO THE JAPANESE SNEAK ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR IN WORLD WAR II, BUT HE DID NOT ELABORATE. SINCE 1997 MUCH OF THE ETHNIC VIOLENCE IN AND AROUND WARRI HAS BEEN ROOTED IN A DECISION BY THE THEN MILITARY REGIME TO MOVE A LOCAL GOVERNMENT OFFICE FROM AN IJAW AREA TO ONE DOMINATED BY THE ITSEKIRIS. ITSEKIRI LEADER PATRICK FREGENE TELLS V-O-A THAT THE ETHNIC RIVALRY WAS MADE WORSE BY A MILITARY ADMINISTRATION IN WARRI -- WHICH IN HIS VIEW NONETHELESS FAVORED THE IJAWS OVER THE ITSEKIRIS AND TURNED A BLIND EYE TO THE VIOLENCE. NOW MR. FREGENE SAYS THE NEW CIVILIAN GOVERNMENT SWORN IN ON MAY 29TH SHOULD TAKE STEPS TO REASSERT ITS CONTROL OVER THE DELTA AND REGAIN THE CONFIDENCE OF BOTH SIDES. //INSERT SECOND FREGENE ACT// WHAT WE NEED TO GET THIS THING RESOLVED IS SINCERITY OF GOVERNMENT -- TO SEE A DISPLAY OF SINCERITY AND TRANSPARENCY OF GOVERNMENT. IF GOVERNMENT DISPLAYS THIS QUALITY, THIS CRISIS WILL BE OVER IN A MATTER OF HOURS. WE WANT A ROUNDTABLE CONFERENCE TO DISCUSS THIS MATTER. WE WANT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND NOT THE STATE GOVERNMENT TO HANDLE THE RESOLUTION OF THIS MATTER. THEY MUST PUT AN END TO THIS WAR. //END ACT// THE NEW GOVERNMENT LED BY PRESIDENT OLUSEGUN OBASANJO HAS PLEDGED TO ADDRESS THE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC IMBALANCES IN THE DELTA WHICH OBSERVERS SAY ARE THE TRUE CAUSE OF THIS CONFLICT. NEXT WEEK PRESIDENT OBASANJO HIMSELF IS SCHEDULED TO APPEAR IN WARRI AT A MAJOR FORUM ON THE ISSUES FACING THE DELTA. (SIGNED) NEB/JP/ENE-T/WFR 06-Jun-99 5:07 PM EDT (2107 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .





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