UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
NIGERIA: Cash payments offered for militia guns in troubled PlateauJOS, 24 May 2004 (IRIN) - The newly appointed administrator of Plateau State, Retired General Chris Alli, has offered cash payments for the return of weapons in the hands of rival Muslim and Christian militia groups that have killed hundreds of people in an upsurge of sectarian violence in recent weeks.
Alli, who's statement was issued late on Friday, was selected to control the central Nigerian state by President Olusegun Obasanjo who sacked Alli's elected predecessor, Joshua Dariye, and the entire state legislature upon proclamation of emergency rule last week.
Alli gave people until 7 June to surrender illegal weapons. After that deadline, the amnesty will end and possession of such weapons will be considered "a conscious preparation for violence, bloodshed and murder," the statement read.
Those who return automatic weapons or provide information leading to the recovery of caches of weapons will be paid 200,000 naira (US $1,515), while people who give up locally made rifles will be paid 25,000 naira for each weapon (US $189), said the statement read by government secretary, John Gobak.
"All citizens should be aware of the danger illegal and prohibited firearms pose to peaceful coexistence," Gobak said.
The government has in the past, repeatedly linked the number of illegal weapons in the country to the rise in ethnic conflict, which has seen thousands killed since Obasanjo came to office in 1999.
Under the amnesty, special designated points are to be set up to receive the weapons at local government buildings. Alli's statement made no estimate of the number of weapons he expected to gather.
Obasanjo declared the state of emergency after a mainly Christian ethnic Tarok militia killed hundreds of Muslims in the town of Yelwa on 2 May. The attack on the largely Muslim town was in apparent reprisal for a February massacre of 48 Christians in a Yelwa church.
But the Yelwa attack on Muslims has triggered reprisal violence against Christians. Scores were killed in the predominantly Muslim city of Kano, in northern Nigeria, after a Muslim demonstration turned into a two-day riot targeting Christians earlier this month.
Most recently, more than 20 people were killed when a Muslim militia attacked five predominantly Christian villages early on 18 May - only hours before Obasanjo's state of emergency was imposed.
Thousands of have fled their homes in Plateau State, fearful of further reprisal attacks. The Red Cross has established 5 camps for more than 10,000 displaced Muslims who have fled to neighbouring Nassarawa State.
Many Christians have left the area too.
Nigerian historians say this is a conflict over land use. The Christians are mostly agrarian farmers while the Muslims are largely nomadic Hausa-speaking Muslims with roots in the north of the country.
Nigeria's estimated population of 126 million is divided almost equally between Muslims and Christians, with Christians dominating the wealthier oil-rich south of the country and Muslims holding sway in the poorer drier north.
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