Latest Nigerian Strife Blamed on Guerrillas

Conflicts Are Not Religious, Says Archbishop

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LAGOS, Nigeria, MAY 5, 2004 ( Despite a report to the contrary, the confrontations taking place in Nigeria in recent days cannot be regarded as religious conflicts or as genocide, says a bishop.

«It is not correct to speak of genocide,» Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, 45, of Jos told the Missionary Service News Agency.

«There is no programmed or planned action to eliminate any particular group,» he said. «They are attacks of a guerrilla movement under way for some time and fomented by both sides.»

The archbishop was commenting on statements released today by a Muslim leader in regard to the clashes between armed groups of two ethnic groups, the Tarok permanent farmers and the Fulani nomad herders. The clashes erupted Sunday in Yelwa, the state capital of Plateau, and resulted in dozens, perhaps hundreds of victims.

«The term genocide was misused, as it is also an error to continue claiming that these clashes stem from religious tension,» Archbishop Kaigama said.

«There is nothing religious about this violence; these clashes often break out in retaliation for cattle raids or vendetta for the death of a group member in a dispute,» he said.

«It is important to underline that relations between Christians and Muslims are not as tense as some would like to make them appear,» the Jos archbishop observed.

«As the top representative of the Catholic Church in Jos, I have a very close personal friendship with the local Muslim leader. I often attend ceremonies in the mosque and participate in all Islamic festivities, a courtesy repaid by the great esteem and affection also of the Muslims,» the bishop continued.

A parish priest in Yelwa told the Missionary Service News Agency that the clashes began Sunday morning when a group of young armed Fulani entered a small nearby village inhabited by Tarok.

On arrival, the herdsmen entered the village church and rang the bell to call the worshippers to gather, and as soon as some young Tarok came out of their homes, the herdsmen opened fire.

The Fulani were forced out of the village toward Yelwa, followed by an angry group of Tarok, waiting for an excuse to return to attack Yelwa, which the farmers were forced to leave in the past months after violent clashes with the Fulani.

Just in the past three months the violence between the Christian Tarok and Muslim Fulani in the zone of Yelwa has resulted in the deaths of more than 400 people.

Plateau state authorities this morning imposed a curfew in Yelwa, where 600 security force agents were deployed in an attempt to restore order between the two groups.

Since 1999, more than 10,000 people have died in the nation in ethnic, religious and political clashes.

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