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SLUG: 2-315814 Nigeria Unrest (L)

DATE= 5/11/2004







INTRO: Muslim youths have rioted in northern Nigeria after Islamic clerics launched an ultimatum for the government to defend Muslim communities in the violence wracked center of the country. V-O-A's Nico Colombant reports from our West Africa bureau in Abidjan.

TEXT: Heavily armed officers patrolled parts of Kano city Tuesday after gangs of Muslim men attacked several minority Christian-run shops and burned vehicles and homes. One badly burned corpse lay on the street.

The brief eruption of violence followed an ultimatum issued by Islamic clerics at a rally in Kano, calling on the federal government to protect Muslim communities in nearby Plateau state.

Speaking to thousands of people, Islamic clerics said Muslims there would have to defend themselves through more violence if the government does not put a stop to the killings.

The government says Christian ethnic Tarok fighters killed between 200 and 300 villagers last week in a revenge attack on the mainly Muslim ethnic Hausa-Fulani town of Yelwa. Local Muslim leaders say more than 600 people were killed.

The Christian fighters say they were retaliating for previous Muslim attacks.

The head of a Christian non-violent group in Plateau state, Joseph Sangosanya, says he is not surprised by the ultimatum. He says too little has been done to defuse tensions since similar ethnic rivalries first erupted in the state capital Jos in 2001.


I'm not surprised because the issues have not been addressed, so I'm not surprised. My position is that the issue is not pushing in forces, the military to quell the riots because it can only have a negative peace. To have a long lasting peace, it has to be engaged constructively.

/// END ACT ///

New York-based Human Rights Watch on Tuesday also criticized Nigeria's government for doing too little to end the cycle of revenge attacks.

Researcher Carina Tertsakian says the government sometimes tries to hide the violence, to prevent other eruptions, but she says it's time to address the problem directly.


You do get this effect of repercussions in a way where something that happens in one part of the country can trigger off events in another part of the country. But I know that the government has also used that as an excuse for actually not telling the facts as they are, or indeed holding back information, which is also very unhelpful. The people of the country certainly have a right to know what's happened and what the government is doing about it.

/// END ACT ///

Human rights campaigners say negotiations at the grass-roots level are needed to address contentious ethnic claims over land, cattle and political power.

So far, the federal government has sent troop reinforcements to Yelwa and has helped with evacuating residents. It also tried to appoint a peace committee headed by a Muslim leader, but the team has so far been rejected by local Christian officials.

Nigeria's government officials were not available to comment for this report. (SIGNED)


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