Militia's hunt for guns renews fears of Nigeria violence

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The Independent Online

Fears that sectarian violence could spread across Nigeria increased yesterday after it emerged that militia leaders from Jos, where at least 200 people were massacred on Sunday, had been attempting to buy arms in the restive Niger Delta just prior to the attack.

A militant commander in the Niger Delta said he had been approached last week by three Muslims from the central city of Jos who wanted to buy arms. The men had already purchased 50 assault rifles and wanted help in speaking to other militants who they believed could sell them more guns.

"I'm a Muslim by religion so they were thinking I would assist them to meet other groups in the creeks but I went to the security officer," he said.

The men were arrested near the Delta city of Port Harcourt after the militant leader – who claims to have retired – alerted authorities.

The link between the fragile peace in Nigeria's main oil-producing region and the sectarian massacre of mainly Christian villagers in the central Plateau state will add to the pressure on Nigeria's government, which has been accused of failing to prevent intercommunal violence. Rights groups have demanded a proper inquiry into the killings in Jos, while Nigerian police said yesterday that 49 people, mainly Muslim herders known as Fulani, had been arrested over the massacre.

The Niger Delta is awash with weapons after five years of attacks on government forces and oil facilities by groups demanding a fairer share of the wealth generated in the region.

The state governor and Christian leaders in Jos have accused the army of complicity in Sunday's massacre, saying they ignored warnings that Fulani herders were stockpiling weapons.

Nigeria is divided between Muslim and Christian populations and while the latest killings have their roots in local conflicts over land and resources they have raised the tensions between the two faith communities.

Nigeria's acting president is hobbled by a power struggle and the President is in intensive care and hasn't been seen in public since November last year.

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