Nigeria lets religious killers walk free- rights group


By Tom Ashby LAGOS, May 25 (Reuters) - Nigeria has failed to prosecute those responsible for religious violence that killed 900 people in the oil-exporting country last year,

LAGOS, May 25 (Reuters) - Nigeria has failed to prosecute those responsible for religious violence that killed 900 people in the oil-exporting country last year, a U.S.-based human rights group said on Wednesday. In a report on two waves of killings by Christians and Muslims in central and northern Nigeria last May, Human Rights Watch said the impunity enjoyed by instigators and perpetrators of the bloodshed would feed the cycle of violence. "The authorities need to send a clear message that those responsible for these killings will be arrested and prosecuted," said Peter Takirambudde, director of the group's Africa division. "The impunity protecting the perpetrators has only encouraged further violence."The fighting between Christians and Muslims in the central state of Plateau dates back to 2001 when religious riots in the state capital Jos killed about 1,000.Small Christian and animist communities indigenous to the impoverished farming region complain of encroachment by the Muslim-dominated north. An series of tit-for-tat battles between rival villages in 2002 and 2003 escalated into large-scale killings in early 2004. In February, 75 Christians were murdered by Muslims in Yelwa, a remote market town, including 48 hacked, shot and burned to death in a church.Hundreds of Christians retaliated by launching a coordinated attack on Yelwa's Muslim community in early May, going house to house with assault rifles and machetes. Scores of women were abducted and some were raped, Human Rights Watch said.More than 11,000 people have been killed in religious, ethnic and communal violence in Nigeria since the restoration of democracy five years ago. DEATH TOLL DISPUTE The death toll from the Yelwa attack has been the subject of disagreement. One Yelwa community leader told Reuters at the time that 630 people were buried in the aftermath of the two-day assault, but the government had given much lower figures. Human Rights Watch estimated that 700 people were killed. A week later, Muslims in Nigeria's largest northern city Kano launched a reprisal attack on the Christian minority there, killing more than 200, Human Rights Watch said. Security forces imposed a dawn to dusk curfew in city to quell the attacks, and gave the order to shoot violators on sight. Dozens of people, including innocent bystanders, were killed by police and soldiers, the group said. "The warning signs were there for a long time, but the government chose to do nothing until the situation spiralled out of control," the statement said. The Kano bloodshed prompted President Olusegun Obasanjo to assume emergency powers in Plateau state, replacing the governor with a former military chief of staff for six months and deploying hundreds of troops to the area. The interim administrator inaugurated a peace conference to reconcile the two sides in Plateau state in August, but he failed to set up a panel of inquiry into the killings. Plans for a truth and reconciliation commission were also dropped. Local residents said powerful politicians planned and funded the violence. One political analyst said some of these figures were drafted back into the ruling People's Democratic Party to aid reconciliation. "Dozens of people have been arrested, but those responsible for planning and organising the violence have still not been prosecuted," Human Rights Watch said.

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