Attackers armed with machetes killed at least 18 people in two separate attacks in villages in central Nigeria the latest in a series of ethnic and religious clashes in the troubled region.
Thirteen of the victims, including women and children, were killed in an attack on the largely Christian village of Wareng in Plateau state in the early hours of the morning, police commissioner Abdulrahman Akano said.
“I can authoritatively confirm that 13 people have been killed in that night attack,” he told reporters.
A further five people were killed in what appeared to have been a reprisal attack in the village of Barkin Ladi, he said, reports Reuters.
The violence underscores security concerns in Africa’s most populous nation as it prepares for presidential, parliamentary and state governorship elections in April.
Plateau state, of which Jos is the capital, lies in the “Middle Belt” where the mostly Muslim north meets the largely Christian south. The region is seen as a potential flashpoint ahead of the polls.
President Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, faces a tough election battle with his main contender, ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a northerner, and some analysts fear the national debate could become polarised around north-south rivalries.
Jonathan’s candidacy is controversial because of an agreement in the ruling party that power should rotate between the north and the south every two terms, a rhythm which his victory would interrupt.
Hundreds of people died in clashes between Muslim and Christian mobs in the Middle Belt early last year and there have been frequent outbreaks of violence since then.
The tension is rooted in decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands and for economic and political power with migrants and settlers from the north.
Soldiers fired into the air to disperse youths burning vehicles and tyres in Jos on Saturday in protest at the killing of seven Muslims in a nearby village.