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Monday, July 19, 1999 Published at 05:58 GMT 06:58 UK

World: Africa

Ethnic fighting follows Nigeria festival

By Nigeria Correspondent Barnaby Phillips

Fighting between members of Nigeria's two largest ethnic groups, the Yorubas and Hausas, has erupted in a town near the commercial capital, Lagos.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips is asked how things are in Shagamu
At least 10 people have died and many houses have been set on fire in the town of Sagamu, which is about 50km north-east of Lagos.

Police reinforcements have been sent to Sagamu, but are still struggling to bring the situation under control.

Horrific scenes

The centre of Sagamu presents a horrifying scene; burnt corpses are on the streets and many buildings are on fire.

Thousands of people from the Yoruba and Hausa ethnic groups are patrolling either side of a makeshift front line.

They are armed with machetes, clubs, home-made guns and petrol bombs.

The police appear to have been taken by surprise by the scale of the ethnic conflict, although as night fell on Sunday, truck-loads of heavily-armed reinforcements were arriving from neighbouring towns.

Violence linked to festival

The conflict erupted because of a dispute surrounding a traditional Yoruba festival known as the Oro.

During the Oro, which lasts several nights, people not participating in the festival are asked to stay off the streets.

Yoruba people in Sagamu told the BBC that the Hausa community had refused to obey this traditional rule, whereas Hausa people said they had been attacked indiscriminately.

A tense stand-off, which had lasted for several days, finally blew up into something much more serious in the early hours of Sunday morning, when Yoruba youths were reported to have attacked a mosque and killed several Hausa people inside it.

Residents of Sagamu told the BBC that the violence was unprecedented in the town's history and they appealed to the authorities to bring it under control as quickly as possible.

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