AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Raids by gunmen in ethnically divided central Nigeria and gun battles between soldiers and attackers have killed at least 48 people and left dozens of homes burnt, the military said Friday.
The attacks appeared to have been reprisals linked to cattle theft, often the source of friction in the Middle Belt region dividing the mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south of Africa's most populous nation.
Thursday's violence saw gunmen raid three villages in the remote Langtang region of Plateau state, leaving at least 28 residents dead. Homes were also burnt in two other villages, said Captain Salisu Mustapha, spokesman for a military task force in the region.
He did not have a specific number of homes burnt, but said it was around 100. Residents were fleeing the area to find shelter and out of fears of further violence.
"We now have a total of 48 dead from the attacks on three villages," Mustapha told AFP. He said the dead included 20 assailants killed by soldiers who responded.
"Two suspected gunmen involved in the attacks were arrested with some arms and their motorcycles," said Mustapha.
The villages attacked were Karkashi, Bolgang and Magama, and residents said the raids followed incidents of cattle rustling.
Herdsmen from the mainly Muslim Fulani ethnic group were suspected to be behind the raids on the villages populated by the mainly Christian Taroks.
Thousands have been killed in Nigeria's central region in recent years in clashes between Muslim and Christian ethnic groups in a struggle for access to land or local power.
Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, mainly based in the country's northeast, has occasionally carried out violence in the Middle Belt as well, but there was no sign of any link in Thursday's violence.
Nigeria's military is currently engaged in an offensive in the northeast seeking to end Boko Haram's four-year insurgency.
The country includes some 250 ethnic groups, and illegal weapons are widespread. Authorities have been largely unable to stop such violent flare-ups.