Plateau State Information Commissioner Dauda Lamba told the AFP news agency from Jos, ”The situation is under control. The combined military and mobile policemen dispatched to the area early yesterday have quelled the violence.”
AFP also reports that Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has ordered some 600 heavily armed policemen to the area to restore order.
The raid by the Christian Taroks on the predominantly Muslim Fulani town of Yelwa was apparently in retaliation for a previous Muslim attack on a nearby Tarok village, which left churches burned and inflicted an unknown number of causalities, according to media reports.
The back-and-forth conflict between the Christian Taroks and Muslim Fulanis stems largely from competing claims over fertile farmland and cattle in the southern Plateau State as well as religious and ethnic divisions.
The Tarok are mainly farmers, while their Hausa and Fulani rivals are often nomadic cattle herders. The two groups have often clashed in the past over land disputes.
The police had previously reported 67 corpses recovered from the massacre, which occurred Sunday and Monday.
There are few confirmed details about how the violence unfolded or the exact death toll, but a senior policeman, who asked not to be named, told Reuters: “Hundreds of people including students, women and children were killed.”
Violence in the region has escalated since January, reportedly killing hundreds and forcing thousands to flee.
Mutilated and charred corpses were left in the main street of the remote market town as thousands of Muslims lined the roadside chanting religious slogans and vowing revenge on the attackers, an eyewitness told Reuters.
Officials of the Nigerian Red Cross confirmed the latest fighting but declined to give any specific death toll.
“I can only tell you that about 60 injured people are now receiving treatment while more than 1,000 people were displaced,” an official told the United Nations’ Integrated Regional Information Networks without disclosing his name.
The Plateau State has been the scene of sporadic ethnic and religious violence since clashes between Christians and Muslims in the city of Jos in 2001 left more than 1,000 dead.
The latest violence comes as political protests erupted around the first anniversary of President Obanjanjo’s reelection.
Reuters reported that thousands of police turned out to crush anti-government rallies in two cities Monday, and successfully stopped the main protest from taking place in Abuja, the capital of Africa’s most populous nation and major oil exporter.
“The show of force was clear proof that we are up against a dictatorial regime,” Balarabe Musa, one of the main organizers of the rally, told the news service.
The demonstrators intended to protest last year’s general elections in which Obasanjo won a second term. The U.S. State Department said the poll was “marred by serious irregularities and fraud including political violence.”
Opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari, Obasanjo’s main challenger in last year’s poll, said 300 of his supporters were still unaccounted for after police raided his office in Abuja Sunday night and detained protesters arriving in the city to take part in Monday’s demonstration.
The government had banned the protests, citing a threat to national security.
Presidential spokeswoman Remi Oyo said the small turnout was “a testimony to the strength of our democracy,” according to Reuters.
Religious, ethnic and political enmities have fueled continuous outbreaks of violence resulting in more than 10,000 killed since Obasanjo was first elected president in 1999, ending more than a decade of repressive military rule.