'Punish those who are behind the Jos violence'

ABUJA - Nigeria must prosecute the community leaders and gangs behind its ethnic and religious conflicts if it wants to prevent the sort of bloodshed that killed hundreds in Jos last week, politicians said yesterday.

ABUJA - Nigeria must prosecute the community leaders and gangs behind its ethnic and religious conflicts if it wants to prevent the sort of bloodshed that killed hundreds in Jos last week, politicians said yesterday.

Four days of clashes between Christian and Muslim mobs armed with guns, knives and machetes killed hundreds of people in the Plateau state capital and surrounding communities last week before Vice President Goodluck Jonathan sent in the military to contain the violence.

The state government said many of those responsible for last week's violence were the same people arrested but not prosecuted in similar clashes in November 2008, which also claimed hundreds of lives.

"We are afraid the same situation will occur again. They were moved to Abuja last time, but were never prosecuted," Plateau state government spokesperson Gregory Yenlong said.

Around 200 people were arrested in last week's clashes and are expected to be sent to Nigeria's capital Abuja for prosecution, police said.

But many of Nigeria's prisons are overcrowded and the legal system overburdened with cases. It is common for communities to punish criminals themselves and blame their actions on the country's weak judicial system.

"This is not the first time that the government has promised justice but the government has not prosecuted those responsible," said Corinne Dufka of US-based Human Rights Watch.

The opposition Action Congress party blamed politicians for the Jos violence.

Hundreds of troops and police have restored order in Jos and a curfew has been relaxed to between 6pm and 6am beginning this week.

Plateau State Governor Jonah Jang is expected to meet with former and current state government and military leaders in Jos yesterday to develop a strategy to prevent future clashes.

Some estimates have put the death toll at more than 400, although official figures have been lower. - Reuters

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