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Tuesday, July 20, 1999 Published at 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK


World: Africa

Uneasy calm follows Nigerian ethnic fighting



Calm has returned to the Nigerian town of Sagamu, following ethnic fighting which has forced hundreds to flee.

A spokesman for Ogun State Governor Olusegun Osoba said: "Obviously things are tense, but the situation is relatively calm."

He added that emotions were still running high in the town, after fighting broke out on Sunday between members of Nigeria's two largest ethnic groups, the Yoruba and the Hausa.

Officials say 25 died in the fighting, but the true picture is thought to be higher. A news agency quoted local police as saying 66 people had died.

According to one report, 36 of the dead were buried in a single mass grave - many of them burnt or bearing machete wounds.

Shops, mosques and cars were also burnt down, and hundreds of people fled the town.

Residents built barricades in the street, defending them with home-made weapons and petrol bombs.

Yoruba youths were reported to have attacked a mosque, killing several members of the mostly Muslim Hausa community.

Police brought in reinforcements and declared a state of emergency in the town on Monday, ordering a curfew for a second successive night.

Security forces have now cleared the street barricades.

Mutual blame

Members of both ethnic groups have blamed the other group for starting the fighting.

State Governor Olesegun Oshoba has tried to reduce tension by dismissing the town's police commander - a Hausa whom some Yorubas accused of fuelling the violence.

BBC Correspondent Barnaby Phillips says that although the clashes in Shagamu have attracted widespread national attention, there is no indication that tension has spread to the many other towns in Nigeria where Hausa and Yoruba people live peacefully side by side.

Dispute over 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 expected 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.

Residents of Sagamu told the BBC that the violence was unprecedented in the town's history, where the two groups have co-existed without rancour for hundreds of years.



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