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Jos Crisis - 150 Bodies Recovered From Village

Published on Monday 25th January 2010

Seven days into the latest round of sectarian crisis in Jos, capital of Plateau State and its environs, at least 150 bodies have been recovered from Kuru Karama, a village near Jos, the village head, Umar Baza, said yesterday, taking the unofficial death toll past 400.

This came as Plateau State Government yesterday alleged that the plan by the Federal Government to transfer suspects arrested in connection with the killings in the state to Abuja, in a similar way 26 mercenaries arrested in connection with the 2008 crisis were transferred to Abuja, smacked of a cover-up.

Speaking about the bodies recovered from wells, Baza told French news agency, AFP, by telephone: "So far we have picked 150 bodies. But 60 more people are still missing.

"We took an inventory of the displaced people from this village, sheltering in three camps, and we realise that 60 people can still not be accounted for." He said, "We believe there are more bodies in the wells."

About seven bodies are said to have been recovered from wells.

The Head of the Muslim volunteer team for the victims' burial, Mohammed Shittu, said further searches would be carried out.

"Now we have 150 bodies in all, taken as from Thursday," he told AFP.

"From the account of survivors, some people fleeing attacks were ambushed and killed in the bush. That is why we are going there to search for more bodies," he said.

Global rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch (HRW), yesterday urged Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to order "an immediate criminal investigation into credible reports of a massacre of at least 150 residents of a town in central Nigeria."

An official who visited Kuru Karama to arrange for the burial of bodies told HRW that 121 corpses had been recovered, including those of 22 children. Dozens of them were "stuffed down wells or in sewage pits," HRW said in a statement.

The state government has given no official death toll for the violence, which broke out last Sunday and spread to nearby towns and villages.

Some 18,000 people fled the fighting to take refuge in military barracks, churches and mosques around the city, according to the Red Cross, as the government called in the army to restore order.

Religious leaders and medical workers said they had counted 288 bodies by Wednesday. Another 26 bodies were found and buried yesterday in a Jos cemetery.

Christian and Muslim leaders in Plateau State have both said the unrest could be traced more to the failure of political leaders to address ethnic differences than to inter-faith rivalry.

Business was slowly picking up in Jos yesterday with more shops opening and roadside hawkers displaying their wares, while long queues of residents scrambled for water at public taps. Although no military patrols were visible, checkpoints still remained

Meanwhile, addressing the press in Jos, Attorney General of Plateau State, Mr. Edward Pwajork, said the planned transfer of suspects to Abuja on the orders of the Federal government " would be a breach of understanding we have with the Federal Ministry of Justice to try and prosecute crime in the state where such is committed".

Pwajork said trying suspects where the offences are committed is better since eye witnesses with evidences are usually on ground to testify, and also in terms of logistics, it enhances speedy dispensation of justice, in accordance with due process and rule of law, "after all, there are adequate facilities to keep the suspects in the custody of the state".

According to Pwajork, such transfer would denote lack of confidence in the police, Plateau State Government, and in the entire system.

A group, the Middle Belt Consultative Forum, has condemned, in strong terms, the order for the withdrawal of the police from the streets in Jos, and the total take over by the military.

Spokesman of the forum, Mr. Basil Tersel, who said this has raised palpable tension in Jos where peace is just returning, implored the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 3rd Division, Major Gen. Saleh Maina, to exercise restrain in exercising his enormous powers.

Also, some Plateau indigenes have frowned on the replacement of the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Greg Ayanting, "at this crucial moment when the state needs him most." Speaking on behalf of the Berom Parliamentary Forum (BPF), a former gubernatorial aspirant in the state, Chief Toma Jang Davou, said the police chief's removal may not be unconnected with certain factual statements which a section in the state found offensive.

In a related development, residents of Yobe and Borno states have continued to live in perpetual fear of the likelihood of the on-going crisis in Jos and other parts of Plateau State spreading to the two states. Also, the number of displaced victims who have taken sojourn in camps established in the wake of the insurgence by the National Emergency Management Authority in Bauchi villages has continued to rise.

Discussions on the streets in Damaturu and Maiduguri, capital towns of Yobe and Borno States respectively, in the last few days centre on the possibility of the crisis spreading to the states as many residents that have no important engagement in town stay back in their residences, leaving most roads without vehicular traffic.

Most affected by the fear are non-indigenes in Borno State who are yet to fully recover from the Boko Haram crisis that saw about a thousand lives lost and property put at several millions of naira destroyed.

In some of the private primary schools in both Maiduguri and Damaturu on Friday, pupils were turned back with the excuse that their security could not be assured as the rumour of a reprisal attack kept spreading.

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