At least 67 dead in Muslim-Christian feud

In the recent ethnic and religious fighting in central Nigeria's highlands between Christian and Muslims, at least 67 have been killed and a thousand wounded.

"We succeeded in removing 67 dead bodies, but we are continuing the search and we might get more," the police commissioner said.

It was said that the heavily armed Christian militants attacked a Muslim community. The fighting occurred in six remote farming villages on the border between Plateau and Taraba states, which include the villages of Old Sarkin Kudu, New Sarkin Kudu, Auoshima One, Auoshima Two, Angon Masu and Sabon Layi.

Assistant commissioner Sotonye Wakama reported that he had led a team to the ethnic Hausa village of Yelwa Shendam after witnesses who were fleeing the area had reported an attack by a large group of gunmen.

Mohammed Ahmed, a motorcycle taxi driver from Yelwa-Shendam, told reporters he had fled after the village was attacked by a militia unit from the rival Tarok community, who arrived with two jeeps mounted with machine guns.

"It is Tarok men who attacked us. If you hear the sound of their guns, you will think that the heavens want to fall. Many women and children were killed. I saw this," he said, adding that the militia had sealed off the town.

Police commissioner Innocent Ilozuoke said the fighting was thought to be a revenge attack, after three Tarok people were killed last month.

All the Muslims in Yelwa-Shendam have moved to Kurgwi in Quaan Pan local government council for fear of further attacks.

Ethnic and sectarian clashes are common in central Nigeria, particularly in Plateau State where fighting often pits Christian and Muslim ethnic groups against one another in a battle for fertile land.

The Muslim Fulani, who live principally from cattle herding, and the Christian Tarok, who are subsistence farmers, are fighting mainly over land and cattle. Most of the killing is done with large cutlasses and in arson attacks.

The latest attack brings the death toll from two-and-a-half months of tit-for-tat violence to at least 350, according to unofficial figures. Nigerian authorities do not provide death tolls routinely from this type of fighting, for fear of provoking reprisal attacks by groups allied to the victims.

This violence has a history within the region, with a similar outbreak of fighting in Plateau state in 2001 which killed at least a thousand people. Christian leaders have responded by calling for a stop to the violence, and pleaded for reconciliation between the extreme groups.