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5/27/04 - RELIGIOUS UNREST IN NIGERIA - 2004-05-27

The Nigerian government has declared a state of emergency in Plateau State, in the center of the country. Violence there between Christians and Muslims has claimed hundreds of lives. Thousands of others have fled to refugee camps in neighboring Nassarawa State.

Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s president, says that it is time to end what he calls near mutual genocide. He has appointed Chris Alli, a retired general, to administer Plateau State. General Alli has offered cash payments to Muslim and Christian militia members who turn in their weapons.

On May 2nd, a Christian militia group attacked and killed Muslims in the town of Yelwa. Human Rights Watch says that the attack was apparently in reprisal for earlier attacks by Muslims against the predominantly Christian Tarok and Fulani ethnic groups.

Jean-Jacques Tshamala, a spokesman for the International Red Cross in Nigeria, says it is difficult to give an accurate number of those affected by the violence:

“After these attacks, people have fled from Yelwa to another state. They were internally displaced. They were wounded. It is very difficult to say how many they are now.” Approximately half of Nigeria’s population practices Islam, and over forty-percent are Christians. Since military rule ended in 1999, clashes between Muslims and Christians in the central and northern states of Nigeria have led to the deaths of more than ten-thousand people.

The U.S. hopes that security will be restored as soon as possible and that both Christians and Muslims in Nigeria respect the rule of law.