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About 25 killed in Nigerian land dispute

Written by: Staff

NAMU, Nigeria, Apr 13 (Reuters) Tribal militia armed with guns, machetes, and bows and arrows killed about 25 people in three days in a land dispute in the central state of Plateau, authorities and witnesses said today.

The blackened shells of at least 20 houses could be seen on the outskirts of the deserted town of Namu, 100 km east of the capital Abuja, which has been at the centre of the dispute between two rival tribal alliances.

Troops prevented journalists from entering town, firing warning shots into the air, but fleeing residents said militia allied to the Pan tribe staged a coordinated assault on rival ethnic groups in the remote farming town on Monday morning.

''Those people were well prepared. They took us unawares. A big group of them, many hundreds of them, arrived with guns, machetes, bow and arrows, cutlasses and knives,'' said Nasiru Samaila, a 33-year-old yam trader from Namu.

''They surrounded the town and they started killing people and burning houses,'' said Samaila, who fled Namu on foot with his wife and two children.

The family have been sleeping under a tree in the nearby town of Sabon Gida Bakin Kogi with hundreds of other refugees since then, waiting for help from the government.

Authorities said the area had witnessed revenge attacks on two subsequent days, and state governor Joshua Dariye issued security forces with a shoot-to-kill order for troublemakers.

Families could still be seen fleeing Namu on foot, by motorcycle and car today, carrying mattresses, chairs and cooking utensils.

An emergency services source said 20 to 30 people were killed in three days of sporadic fighting since Monday. One local newspaper estimated the toll at more than 100.

CURFEW Residents said the Pan and rival tribes had been engaged in an escalating dispute over the location of a new state-run development area headquarters, which would create jobs and bring money to the area.

But the trigger for Monday's killings was an ethnic Gomai man taking sand from a river bed in Namu, which is also claimed by the Pan, they said.

Namu is just 40 km from Yelwa, a larger market town where hundreds of people were killed in similar skirmishes in 2004.

The killings in Yelwa also began as a tribal dispute over land, but quickly inflamed rivalry between Christians and Muslims and sparked religious violence hundreds of miles away in Nigeria's largest northern city, Kano.

The Pan and Gomai incorporate both Christians and Muslims, in addition to native animists, and so far the fighting has not taken on religious overtones.

Plateau State Police Commissioner Richard Chime declined to specify the number of dead. A dusk-to-dawn curfew has been imposed on the area.

''Skirmishes started on Monday, but security has been reinforced and the place is now quiet,'' he said.

The Red Cross also declined to put a figure on the death toll, but said 38 people were injured and 1,287 fled their homes because of the fighting. Many of the displaced families also took refuge in an army barracks in nearby Shendam town, the Red Cross said.


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