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Armed herdsmen kill scores in Nigerian land conflict

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-14

Dozens of gunmen on motorbikes killed more than 100 villagers in a string of attacks this week over land in northwest Nigeria, survivors said Thursday. Police said the conflict was likely due to a feud between herdsmen and their agrarian neighbours.

The attacks, which began on Tuesday night, left scores of people fleeing on foot from the four targeted villages about 110 miles (180 kilometres) south of Katsina city near the Niger border.

People were still burying victims at Marabar Kindo village when the attackers returned on Thursday afternoon and gunned down another seven villagers, resident Adamu Inuwa told AP. They also set fire to thatch-roofed huts, Inuwa said.

Kabiru Ismail of Maigora village said the first raid came late Tuesday and residents were continuing to recover bodies of people who had fled into the bush with the gunmen in pursuit.

Reached by telephone on Thursday afternoon, Ismail said he had counted 103 bodies in three of the four villages. Five vehicles were also torched, he said.

The chief imam of Maigora said two policemen responding to calls for help were among the dead. He and Ismail also said two men in military uniform were among the attackers.

"The victims include men, women and children," Katsina lawmaker Abbas Abdullahi Michika told AFP on Thursday.

Police downplay violence

Villagers complained that no soldiers had come to the scene by Thursday morning.

Katsina's police chief, Hurdi Mohammed, said the violence was perpetrated by ethnic Fulani herdsmen. Mohammed estimated that 30 people had died in the violence, which first broke out late Tuesday. His colleague, Superintendent Aminu Sadiq, police spokesman for Katsina state, said he had heard of only five deaths by Thursday afternoon. Nigerian officials regularly downplay casualty figures.

For months, the area has been terrorized by raids blamed on semi-nomadic Fulani herders attacking Hausa farmers. Both are Muslim. Fulani in the region have long complained that farmers are taking over grazing lands crucial to their survival.

Most Fulani-related violence in Nigeria is concentrated around central Plateau state, where Muslim herders are pitted against Christian farmers.

“Falani are nomadic; they trade in cattle; sometimes they lead their cattle into farmland and destroy crops, provoking conflict” political analyst Opeyemi Agbaje told FRANCE 24.

“This has been going on for years, but the attacks are now becoming more frequent, more widespread, more organised, and worryingly, the Fulani men are now armed with AK47s, further increasing fatality rates. There also reports that they may have support from outside of Nigeria,” he said.

Such conflicts – a mix of tribal and religious animosity aggravated by growing rivalries over land and water resources – are unrelated to an Islamic uprising led by Boko Haram, concentrated mainly in the northeast of Nigeria in which Boko Haram-led militants also have killed thousands of civilians.

‘Ethnic cleansing’

Authorities appear unable to end the carnage or resolve any of the conflicts.

Human Rights Watch warned in a December report the insurgency could spread with extremists invoking “the lack of justice for attacks on Muslims” in Plateau and Kaduna states, where it reported entire villages have been “ethnically cleansed” of Fulani Muslims.

The New York-based advocacy group blamed the government for failing to prosecute known perpetrators, leaving people to resort to revenge attacks.

On Thursday, the visiting UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said she encourages the government to investigate and prosecute human rights violations including those committed by Islamic militants and by security forces as well as perpetrators of ethno-religious violence.

Villagers attacked this week noted that in past raids in Katsina state the herders stole their belongings and especially cattle and sheep. “This time they just killed people,” Ismail said. “It’s as if their mission is to wipe out entire villages.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

Date created : 2014-03-13

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