JOS, Nigeria (Reuters) - Police in Nigeria said on Thursday they had arrested around 200 people following weekend attacks on three Christian villages in which hundreds of people are feared to have been killed.
The central city of Jos, at the crossroads of Nigeria’s Muslim north and Christian south, has been tense since Sunday’s attacks, blamed on northern settlers, on the villages of Dogo Nahawa, Zot and Ratsat just south of the Plateau state capital.
The bloodshed again put Africa’s most populous nation in the international spotlight, with foreign governments including the United States and international rights groups urging the authorities to ensure those responsible are brought to justice.
“About 200 people have been arrested so far,” Plateau police spokesman Mohammed Lerama said.
“By the time the investigations are completed, all of them will be charged to court ... Some were arrested for unlawful possession of firearms, some who were breaking curfew periods, some for unlawful assembly,” he said.
Fierce competition for control of fertile farmlands between Christian and animist indigenous groups and Muslim settlers from the north have repeatedly triggered unrest in central Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” over the past decade.
Retaliatory attacks are not uncommon and Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has put the security forces on red alert to try to prevent unrest from spreading to neighbouring states.
Plateau state government and local army chiefs have traded blame over the killings last Sunday, which came less than two months after days of clashes between Muslim and Christian mobs killed more than 400 people around Jos.
State Governor Jonah Jang on Tuesday blamed the military, which took control of security in January, for failing to respond to his warning that movements of armed men had been reported by villagers shortly before Sunday’s attacks.
The local army commander denied he had been informed of any planned attack on the communities.
“Governor Jang’s ceaseless attack on the army only goes to confirm his extraordinary partisanship to which the army will not be blackmailed into supporting,” army spokesman Brigadier General Chris Olukolade said in a statement.
Some residents have questioned how the attacks on the three communities can have taken place at night when Jos remained under a dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed after January’s violence.
Hundreds of women marched in Jos on Thursday to demand the removal of army chiefs and justice for the victims.
“The carnage was carried out in the middle of the night and Jos is on a 6 (p.m.) to 6 (a.m.) curfew. They must have passed through checkpoints,” said John Gotip, one of scores of men who marched alongside the women.