JOS, Nigeria (Reuters) – Clashes between Nigerian security forces and armed Fulani herdsman erupted on Saturday, killing at least 10 people in the ethnically mixed and volatile city of Jos, a government official said.
Jos is the capital of Plateau State in the heart of Nigeria’s religiously diverse “Middle Belt”, where the mostly Muslim north meets the largely Christian south.
Plateau has for more than a decade been a tinderbox of ethnic and religious rivalries over land and power between local people and migrants from other areas. Hundreds have been killed in ethnic clashes in Jos in recent years.
Islamist sect Boko Haram has claimed several suicide bomb attacks on churches in Jos this year, prompting a Christian backlash against Muslims.
A spokesman for the military Special Task Force, Salisu Mustapha, told Reuters his men engaged the Fulani herdsman, a migrant community, after they attacked local indigenous communities.
But a spokesman for the Fulani said the military instigated the violence. “It was the soldiers that first opened fire,” Miyetti Allah, chairman of the Plateau cattle association, told Reuters.
“The soldiers were being used by the government because we are in war with the tribes of the governor.”
Mustapha denied his troops started the violence.
Plateau State Information Commissioner Abraham Yiljap confirmed the death toll of at least 10.
Security experts believe Boko Haram’s attacks on churches in central and northern Nigeria are an attempt to provoke a wider religious conflict inside Africa’s biggest oil producer.
The militant group has killed more than a thousand people since an uprising in 2009 and is maintaining a low-level insurgency against President Goodluck Jonathan’s government. The sect wants to carve out an Islamic state in northern Nigeria.
However, much of the violence in Jos is not instigated by Boko Haram and is a result of long-running ethnic tensions and local political power struggles.
(Reporting by Buhari Bello; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Pravin Char)