Death, Destruction in Central Nigeria Sectarian Clashes

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Clashes between Muslim and Christian ethnic groups in central Nigeria on Thursday caused "enormous" destruction, with a number of people dead and houses burned, a military officer said.

Captain Charles Ekeocha said the army had imposed a 24-hour curfew on the Barkin Ladi area of Plateau state after the clashes, the latest in a series of violent incidents between the two communities.

"Lives have been lost, houses have been burned," he said, adding that exact details were not known "but the loss is enormous."

A resident who did not want to be named said two people were shot dead on Wednesday and a third was wounded, while churches and an Islamic school were also burned.

The clashes appeared to result from reprisals carried out over killings that had occurred over the previous weekend.

Plateau state lies in the so-called middle belt region between the mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south of Africa's most populous nation.

Beroms and other mainly Christian ethnic groups are viewed as the indigenes in the area, while Hausa-Fulani Muslims are seen as the more recent "settlers" despite the fact that many have been there for decades.

Policies that favor indigenous groups when it comes to such issues as patronage and jobs have created animosity.

In turn, Beroms fear that Hausas -- a much larger ethnic group throughout Nigeria as a whole -- will eventually be allowed to dominate an area they see as their own.

Separately in the countryside, clashes over land have occurred between Berom farmers and Fulani herdsmen.

Thousands have been killed in the unrest in recent years. Dozens died in violence including bomb blasts on Christmas Eve 2010 and the days that followed.

Many say the crisis has been fueled by politicians in a local struggle for political and economic gain, but religious sentiments are increasingly being stirred as well.

Rights activists have petitioned the International Criminal Court over the crisis, arguing that the government is either incapable or unwilling to prosecute those responsible.

The court's prosecutor has confirmed he was looking into an issue in Nigeria, and local rights activists say they have been informed it involves the violence in the center of the country.

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