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Nigerians Fear Violence in North

March 3, 2000

ABA, Nigeria (AP) _ Three days after this southeastern town was shaken by ethnic and religious violence, thousands of northerners remained holed up Thursday in police stations and military bases here, fearing further carnage in their part of the country.

A police official said at least 200 people were killed Monday in revenge attacks in Aba following bloody battles between Muslims and Christians in the northern city of Kaduna that killed more than 300.

The latest bloodshed occurred when residents of Aba, nearly all of them Christians of the Ibo ethnic group, attacked nothern Hausas, nearly all of them Muslims, after the bodies of Ibos killed in Kaduna were returned home, the official said on condition of anonymity.

His account could not be independently confirmed. Area residents said authorities had buried many victims in mass graves in recent days.

The official death toll in Aba is 53 people, though Nigerian authorities regularly underreport the fatalities in such incidents. Some Nigerian news reports have said more than 300 people were killed in Aba.

There were similar attacks in other towns in Nigeria’s southeast, though reliable death tolls were not available.

Days after the violence, Aba appeared normal _ except for the burned wreckage of two mosques and garbage and broken glass littering the streets where northerners were attacked.

But nearly all the city’s northerners, and those from the surrounding villages, remained under the protection of authorities.

``All we know is that we got up that morning and went about our business and then they attacked us and started killing us,″ said Abubakar Ali, a Muslim sheltering at the Central Police Station, where at least 1,500 people were jammed into the courtyard.

Discussions with people on the streets of Aba made it clear why the northerners were still afraid.

``Muslim people are killing our people in Kaduna _ that’s why we started killing their people,″ said Tony Chima, a truck driver who said he joined in on the attacks.

But the violence in Aba, while triggered by religious fighting in the north, was more ethnic in nature. While most Hausas are Muslims, even Christian Hausas were attacked by the mobs, many of them made up of what Nigerians call ``area boys″ _ young unemployed men who take advantage of trouble to steal and loot.

One Christian Hausa, who gave his name only as James, said mobs of area boys raged through the village where he lived outside Aba, but that local Ibos protected him and his family, and brought them to a naval base where they could be protected.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, speaking on national television Wednesday from the capital city of Abuja, said he was deeply shocked by his visit earlier this week to Kaduna. Entire blocks were left in ruins and, by some estimates, more than 2,000 people were killed in the fighting that broke out during a Christian demonstration against Sharia, or Islamic law.

Shariah went into effect earlier this year in one northern state and was going to begin in two more states in the largely Muslim north. For years, Islamic courts have settled civil cases, such as divorces and inheritances, among Muslims. But the new Shariah created courts with the power to try criminal cases involving Muslims and mete out punishments.

While the fighting was sparked by religious disagreements, it is also linked to Nigeria’s complex web of ethnic disputes and the North’s waning power since the end of military rule.

Southern Nigeria is predominantly Christian, largely composed of Yorubas or Ibos. Northern Nigeria is overwhelmingly made up of Muslim Hausas. Northerners dominate Nigeria’s military, and wielded immense power during army rule.