UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
NIGERIA: 20 dead in fresh Plateau violence despite state of emergency
SHENDAM, 20 May 2004 (IRIN) - More than 20 Christian villagers have been killed in a fresh outbreak of religious violence in Plateau State in central Nigeria, where President Olusegun Obasanjo imposed a state of emergency earlier this week, residents in the area told IRIN.
Armed Muslims attacked five Christian villages on Tuesday near the town of Yelwa on Tuesday morning, they said.
The raids appeared to be a reprisal for a Christian massacre of Muslims in Yelwa on 2 May.
The latest raids targeted the nearby Christian villages of Karese, Sabon Gida, Jirim, Gidan Sabo and Bakin Ciyawa.
An IRIN correspondent who visited Bakin Ciyawa on Wednesday counted at least 10 burned-out homesteads, but local residents said the more remote settlement of Gidan had been worst hit.
Nearly all the houses in Gidan were destroyed and all the inhabitants of the village were forced to evacuate, they added.
The IRIN correspondent saw Christian farmers leaving their remote villages in droves - on foot, on pick-up trucks and on motorbikes - for the safety of Shendam town, 250 km west of the federal capital Abuja, which has an army garrison.
The latest killings took place just a few hours before Obasanjo declared a state of emergency in Plateau State, sacking its elected governor, dismissing the state legislature and appointing a former army general to run the territory for the next six months.
The measure was overwhelmingly endorsed by both the houses of parliament on Wednesday in a rare show of unity between Obasanjo's People's Democratic Party and the opposition.
More than two thirds of the 369 members of the House of Representatives voted in favour of the measure.
It was endorsed even more strongly by the Senate, where 90 voted in favour of the imposition of the state of emergency and only five voted against.
However, angry Christian villagers who had just seen their homes destroyed warned that Obasanjo's tough action would not stop the cycle of religious violence that has claimed more than 2,000 lives in Plateau State since 2001.
"This is an unprovoked attack which I assure you must be retaliated," Ibrahim Luka, a Christian resident, told IRIN on Wednesday. He was surrounded by a group of Christian militiamen armed with locally made rifles and machetes who nodded in agreement.
The massacre of an estimated 600 Muslims in Yelwa sparked reprisal attacks on Christians in the Muslim-dominated city of Kano in northern Nigeria.
Police put the death toll in Kano at 51, but local Christian leaders claim that about 600 Christians were killed there and thousands more were missing.
Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in southeastern Plateau State following the Yelwa massacre, fearing violence.
Most of the Muslims on the move have headed out of Plateau State into neighbouring Bauchi and Nassarawa state, which have a predominantly Muslim population.
At Lafia, the Nassarawa State capital, Red Cross officials said more than 10,000 people, mainly Muslims displaced from Yelwa, had been installed at five camps spread around the city.
"We have people coming in daily and people going out daily," said Red Cross official Jerry Kuje of the Dunama camp in Lafia, which has more than 5,000 people. "Three lorries with about 150 people came in this morning [Wednesday], while yesterday about 100 left for places like Kano and Bauchi."
According to Kuje the exact number of people that have headed to Nassarawa for safety is much higher that the official tally at the camps since many have chosen to stay friends and relatives instead.
Many of the new arrivals need medical treatment for machete cuts, burns and bow and arrow and gunshot wounds sustained during the raids. The Red Cross treated 252 people in Nassarawa on Tuesday alone - 198 of them for minor injuries.
There are now fears that farming will severely disrupted by people abanding the land and that if the situation fails to return normal soon, crops will be lost.
"We are particularly worried about the impact the violence is having on farming activities," Dawan Danjuma, a Shendam resident, told IRIN. "People are no longer able to go to the farms for fear of being attacked and we worry about what people are going to eat if they can't farm."
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