March 22, 2010 / 12:24 PM / 8 years ago

Nigerian police to prosecute 162 for village attacks

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerian police plan to charge 162 people for their role in sectarian clashes that killed hundreds in Plateau state earlier this month and said some of them could be sentenced to death.

<p>A soldier stands near a burned vehicle which was carrying tomatoes along a road in Nigeria's central city of Jos, January 20, 2010. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye</p>

Police said late on Sunday they had finished interrogating those arrested after the March 7 attacks on three villages near the central city of Jos, which lies at the crossroads of Nigeria’s Muslim north and Christian south.

“Forty-one of the suspects are to be charged with terrorism and culpable homicide, which are punishable by death,” police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said.

The remaining detainees would be charged with unlawful possession of firearms, rioting and “mischief by fire” for the burning of buildings during the attacks.

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.

Politicians, diplomats and rights groups have urged the authorities to prosecute the community leaders and gangs behind the fighting if it wants to prevent future conflicts.

But many of Nigeria’s prisons are overcrowded and the legal system overburdened with cases. It is not uncommon for communities to punish criminals themselves and blame their actions on the country’s weak judicial system.

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