by Aminu Abubakar Aminu Abubakar –
47 mins ago
JOS, Nigeria (AFP) –
UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Washington led calls for restraint on Monday after the slaughter of more than 500 Christians in Nigeria, as survivors told how the killers chopped down their victims.
Funerals took place for victims of the three-hour orgy of violence on Sunday in three Christian villages close to the northern city of Jos, blamed on members of the mainly Muslim Fulani ethnic group.
While troops were deployed to the villages to prevent new attacks, security forces detained 95 suspects but faced bitter criticism over how the killers were able to go on the rampage at a time when a curfew was meant to be in force.
Media reported that Muslim residents of the villages in Plateau state had been warned by phone text message, two days prior to the attack, so they could make good their escape before the exit points were sealed off.
Survivors said the attackers were able to separate the Fulanis from members of the rival Berom group by chanting 'nagge', the Fulani word for cattle. Those who failed to respond in the same language were hacked to death.
One local paper said the gangs shouted Allah Akhbar (God is Great) before breaking into homes and setting them alight in the early hours of Sunday. Churches were among the buildings that were burned down.
The Vatican led a wave of outrage with spokesman Federico Lombardi expressing the Roman Catholic Church's "sadness" at the "horrible acts of violence".
The UN chief told reporters he was "deeply concerned".
"I appeal to all concerned to exercise maximum restraint," he said.
"Nigeria's political and religious leaders should work together to address the underlying causes and to achieve a permanent solution to the crisis in Jos."
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged "all parties to exercise restraint", but also called on the Nigerian government to "make sure the perpetrators are brought to justice."
"The Nigerian government should ensure that the perpetrators of acts of violence are brought to justice under the rule of law and that human rights are respected as order is restored," the chief US diplomat said.
The death toll was initially put at a little over 100 but then shot up. The information ministry said pregnant women were among those killed and around 200 people were being treated in hospital.
"We have over 500 killed in three villages and the survivors are busy burying their dead," said state information commissioner Gregory Yenlong.
"People were attacked with axes, daggers and cutlasses -- many of them children, the aged and pregnant women."
Survivors wail as children, women buried in Nigeria
Much of the violence was centred around the village of Dogo Nahawa, where gangs set fire to straw-thatched mud huts as they went on their rampage.
The explosion of violence is the latest between rival ethnic and religious groups. In January 326 people died in clashes in and around Jos, according to police although rights activists put the overall toll at more than 550.
"The attack is yet another jihad and provocation," the Plateau State Christian Elders Consulatative Forum (PSCEF) said.
However the archbishop of the capital Abuja, John Onaiyekan, told Vatican Radio that the violence was rooted not in religion but in social, economic and tribal differences.
"It is a classic conflict between pastoralists and farmers, except that all the Fulani are Muslims and all the Berom are Christians," he said.
Fulani are mainly nomadic cattle rearers while Beroms are traditionally farmers.
A curfew imposed after January's unrest is supposed to be still in place but Christian leaders said the authorities did nothing to prevent the bloodshed.
The PSCEF said it took the army two hours to react from the time a distress call was put through and "the attackers had finished their job and left".
Witnesses said armed gangs had scared people out of their homes by firing into the air but most of the killings were the result of machete attacks.
"We were caught unawares ... and as we tried to escape, the Fulani who were already waiting, slaughtered many of us," said Dayop Gyang, of Dogo Nahawa.
Gbong Gwon Jos, a Muslim resident of Dogo Nahawa, told The Nation daily he received advanced warnings of the attacks.
"I got a text message about movement of the people."
Rights activists said the slaughter appeared to be revenge for the January attacks in which mainly Muslims were killed.
Locals said that the attacks on Sunday were the result of a feud which had been first ignited by a theft of cattle and then fuelled by deadly reprisals.
Acting President Goodluck Jonathan placed security services in Plateau and nearby states on red alert to contain the violence before he sacked his chief security advisor.
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