LAGOS, March 3 (Reuters) - At least 64 people, including a soldier and seven policemen, have been shot and hacked to death in communal clashes in northeastern Nigeria, police and Red Cross officials said on Monday.
The officials said nomadic herdsmen and farmers clashed several times in northeastern Gombe state and in neighbouring Adamawa state. They said 40 people were killed in the Adamawa violence on Thursday and a further 24 died in a series of clashes in Gombe last week.
Police said they were investigating reports by villagers that armed Chadians triggered a bloodbath in Adamawa with an invasion of one of the remotest corners of Nigeria.
The mounting violence in northern Nigeria comes at a tense time for the oil-producing West African nation, which is due to hold a series of presidential and local elections from April 12 to May 3.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in religious, ethnic and political violence since Olusegun Obasanjo was elected president of Africa's most populous nation in 1999.
But a police spokesman said there were no political undertones to the violence, which broke out in the Song district of Adamawa state last Thursday.
"We have confirmed a total of 40 people killed," police spokesman Chris Olakpe said in Abuja, adding that the toll included 32 civilians, a soldier and seven policemen who were killed by the warring factions.
"As we speak, a joint police and military task force is patrolling the area and has managed to restore calm," he said, adding that two people had been arrested and were helping with investigations.
Media reports said most casualties were in the farming village of Dumne, which was attacked by nomadic Fulani herdsmen on Thursday, apparently to avenge killings in a similar outbreak of violence last September.
The Fulani and ethnic Yugur farmers have clashed repeatedly over farm and grazing land.
Dumne is about 60 km (35 miles) north of Yola, capital of Adamawa state, which is more than 1,000 km (600 miles) northeast of Lagos.
Many in hiding
Emmanuel Ijewere, president of the Nigerian Red Cross, said his organisation was looking after 1,800 people displaced by the violence, but that many were still in hiding.
"That's our problem right now. They are often too frightened to come to the camps," said Ijewere.
He said that a further 24 people had been killed in a series of clashes between Fulani herdsmen from Cameroon and Niger and ethnic Hausa farmers in Gombe state last week. The latest clashes were on Thursday.
"The trouble broke out towards the end of last month and skirmishes continued. About 24 people have been killed," said Ijewere, adding that 20 people were still in hospital.
The polls are Nigeria's first since 15 years of army rule ended in 1999 with Obasanjo's election.
On Sunday, militant ethnic Ijaw youths gave Nigeria seven days to meet a series of mainly political demands or face "massive action" that could affect oil multinationals in the western Niger Delta.
Obasanjo took his re-election campaign to Maiduguri, the biggest town in northeastern Nigeria, on Sunday, pledging security force action to deal with cross-border attacks.
"Armed foreign bandits who have been crossing the borders to disturb us will be ruthlessly dealt with," he told a campaign rally.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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