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 CNS Story:

NIGERIA-VIOLENCE Mar-8-2009 (340 words) xxxi

Nigerian archbishop says conflict is economic, cultural, not religious

By Sarah Delaney
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Cultural, economic and tribal differences are feeding the bloody conflict between Nigerian farmers and herders that has left hundreds of people dead, an archbishop from the African country said.

The violence is not inspired by religious differences, even though the ethnic Berom farmers are Christian and the ethnic Fulani herders are Muslim, Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja told Vatican Radio in a telephone interview March 8.

"International media will say that Christians and Muslims are killing each other," he said. "But this is not the case, because people don't kill for religion, but for social, economic, tribal and cultural reasons."

Government and human rights organizations have estimated that as many as 500 people were killed March 7 in ethnic strife in the state of Plateau, near the city of Jos. The area divides the mainly Muslim northern Nigeria from the mostly Christian south and was the scene of similar attacks in January.

"The victims are poor people who don't have anything to do with all this and are not responsible," Archbishop Onaiyekan said. He said armed Fulani herders had attacked the Berom villages of Ratt and Dogo Nahawa. Soldiers were attempting to hold off further violence there, he said.

News reports said many victims were women and children and that people appeared to have been attacked with machetes. Most of the houses were burned down, some with victims inside, the reports said.

"The church continues to work towards good relations between Christians and Muslims," the archbishop said, "and we try to join together to quell the violence and solve concrete political and ethnic problems."

The Nigerian government is weak and not able to contain the groups who are vying for dominance of the territory, Archbishop Onaiyekan said. Weapons are easy to obtain and the presence of mercenaries "ready to fight for a few dollars" makes the situation volatile, he said.

"We pray for peace, for good government and that the people understand that the only way to survive is to recognize as brothers all the citizens of this country," he said.


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