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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Nigeria religious riot bodies found in village wells

A victim of sectarian violence in Kurujantar, Niberia, 22 Jan
An exact death toll is not known but aid workers say it may be 300

More victims of deadly religious clashes in central Nigeria have been found, with scores of bodies stuffed in wells and sewage pits.

Up to 150 bodies have been found in Kuru Karama village, 30km (18 miles) from the city of Jos, where the violence erupted last Sunday.

Correspondents say elders hid in holes for seven hours to escape the violence.

An exact death toll is not known but overall 300 or more are thought to have died in the Muslim-Christian clashes.

Muslim officials in Jos who spoke to the campaign group Human Rights Watch said 364 Muslims had been killed.

Several thousand people fled their homes.

'Burned alive'

The BBC's Caroline Duffield in Jos says the town and the area to the south of it are under tight military control but more details of the violence there are starting to emerge.

She says many of the bodies found in Kuru Karama had massive burns, other victims were hacked to death or shot.

Nigeria map
Deadly riots in 2001 and 2008
City divided into Christian and Muslim areas
Divisions accentuated by system of classifying people as indigenes and settlers
Hausa-speaking Muslims living in Jos for decades are still classified as settlers
Settlers find it difficult to stand for election
Divisions also exist along party lines: Christians mostly back the ruling PDP; Muslims generally supporting the opposition ANPP

She says there are still more bodies scattered in the bush beyond the village but the areas are not safe for volunteer workers to enter.

Bukuru market, a large commercial area to the south of Jos, was burned to the ground, with at least 1,000 shops and homes in the markets destroyed in the inferno, our correspondent adds.

Umar Baza, head of Kuru Karama village, told AFP news agency: "So far we have picked 150 bodies from the wells. But 60 more people are still missing."

Human Rights Watch said armed men had attacked the mostly Muslim Kuru Karama on 19 January.

"After surrounding the town, they hunted down and attacked Muslim residents, some of whom had sought refuge in homes and a local mosque, killing many as they tried to flee and burning many others alive," it said in a statement.

It quoted one villager as saying: "I came back on Wednesday evening escorted by the military. I saw dead bodies everywhere. The corpses were there, but now you can just see the blood on the ground. None of the houses are standing."

The group called on Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to order an immediate criminal investigation into reports of the massacre.

Mr Jonathan deployed the military after four days of clashes.

He has been issuing orders while President Umaru Yar'Adua receives medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.

The security forces have now restored order and a curfew has been partially lifted.

But correspondents say the atmosphere is still tense.

Jos, the capital of Plateau state, lies at the point where Nigeria's Muslim north and predominantly Christian south meet.

But the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, told the BBC that religion was not the real cause of the violence.

"It is the struggle for ethnic and political superiority in Jos," he said. "If this issue is not resolved then we will witness a cycle of violence. There has to be some political solution."

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