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Central Nigeria ethnic violence kills 19, displaces 4,500

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Weekend attacks on three communities in volatile and ethnically divided central Nigeria have left 19 people dead and displaced some 4,500 others, a local official said on Tuesday.

The attacks were believed to be reprisals in a dispute involving mainly Muslim Fulanis and the mostly Christian Atakar ethnic group.

"From the death toll we've compiled, 19 people including women and children were killed by gunmen we suspect to be Fulani herdsmen in attacks on three communities on Saturday night through Sunday," local government official Kumai Badu told AFP of the violence in the Kaura district, a remote region of Kaduna state.

Fulanis in the area tend to be nomadic herdsmen, while Atakar are mainly farmers. Land disputes often flare up between the two groups.

Badu added that some 4,500 people were displaced and two camps had been set up to house them.

"Apart from the gun attacks, the assailants also set fire to homes," he said.

Kaduna state police commissioner Olufemi Adenaike confirmed that "some villages were attacked by gunmen suspected to be Fulani", but said he could not yet provide a death toll.

"There has been some misunderstanding between the Fulani and the Atakar communities for some time," he said. "We have dispatched our men for a thorough assessment of the situation."

Southern Kaduna state, where the attack occurred, is located in the Middle Belt region dividing Nigeria's mainly Christian south and its mostly Muslim north.

Hundreds were killed in riots in southern Kaduna after 2011 elections, with most of the victims Muslim, according to Human Rights Watch.

Speaking of the weekend violence, Badu said "the attack we believe was in response to the poisoning of some herds by some local farmers over encroachment into their farmlands".

Dozens have been killed over the last couple of weeks in similar ethnic violence in neighbouring Plateau state.

Last week, violence involving rival ethnic groups killed at least 36 people and left dozens of houses burnt in Plateau.

Those casualties were in addition to at least 23 people killed in attacks the previous week in Plateau on March 20 and 21.

Security was boosted in those areas for Sunday's Easter holiday, as was the case in much of the country, since churches have previously been targeted for attacks on Christian holidays.

Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer and most populous nation with some 160 million people and 250 ethnic groups.

Ethnic violence regularly breaks out over local politics, land or other factors.

Islamist extremist group Boko Haram has also extended a deadly insurgency into parts of the country's centre in addition to its attacks in the north, further complicating the situation.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130402/central-nigeria-ethnic-violence-kills-19-displaces-4500-2