20 killed since January in Nigerian villages' fighting for land

News and Press Release
Originally published
LAGOS, Jun 16, 2005 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- At least 20 people have been killed since January this year as ethnic Tiv villages clashed over land in the eastern Nigerian state of Benue, government officials said Thursday.

Fresh fighting broke out this week between Tiv militias of Ikuraib-Diev of Katsina Ala Local Council and Kusuv of Buruku Local Government Council but luckily had only dozens of houses burnt as casualty, they said from Makurdi, the Benue State capital.

The villages have been at each other's throat through their well-armed militias for up to 50 years over ownership of land for farming, natives said. The villagers are mainly yam farmers.

The Katsina Ala Local Council chairman, Tsenengo Abancha, told the state legislature at a hearing called to broker peace this week that the government should acquire the disputed land compulsorily and disallow anybody from farming there.

His counterpart from Buruku, Pareula Etija, echoed same sentiments.

A police officer at the Benue Command in Makurdi who asked not to be named said anti-riot policemen had long been deployed to the troubled area but still, at least 20 people were killed since the crisis erupted in January. Nigerian newspapers said Thursday the death toll could be up to 50.

Since President Olusegun Obasanjo took office in 1999, ending 15 years of military rule, more than 10,000 Nigerian have been killed in ethnic, religious and political clashes.