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Hundreds slaughtered in religious violence

Published:Tuesday | March 9, 2010 | 12:00 AM

DOGO NAHAWA, Nigeria (AP):

The killers showed no mercy: they didn't spare women and children, or even a four-day-old baby, from their machetes.

Yesterday, Nigerian women wailed in the streets as a dump truck carried dozens of bodies past burned-out homes toward a mass grave.

Rubber-gloved workers pulled ever-smaller bodies from the dump truck and tossed them into the mass grave. A crowd began singing a hymn with the refrain, "Jesus said I am the way to heaven." As the grave filled, the grieving crowd sang "Jesus, show me the way."

At least 200 people, most of them Christians, were slaughtered on Sunday, according to residents, aid groups and journalists. The local government gave a figure more than twice that amount, but offered no casualty list or other information to substantiate it.

An Associated Press reporter counted 61 corpses, 32 of them children, being buried in the mass grave in the village of Dogo Nahawa on yesterday. Other victims would be buried elsewhere.

At a local morgue the bodies of children, including a diaper-clad toddler, were tangled together. One appeared to have been scalped. Others had severed hands and feet.

The horrific violence comes after sectarian killings in this region in January left more than 300 dead, most of them Muslim. Some victims were shoved into sewer pits and communal wells.

Sunday's bloodshed in three mostly Christian villages appeared to be reprisal attacks, said Red Cross spokesman Robin Waubo.

Nigeria is almost evenly split between Muslims in the north and the predominantly Christian south. The recent bloodshed has been happening in central Nigeria, in towns which lie along the country's religious fault line. It is Nigeria's 'middle belt,' where dozens of ethnic groups vie for control of fertile lands.

The Reverend Pandang Yamsat, the president of a local Christian group, said he had urged his congregation not to respond violently to Muslims. However, he said he believed Muslims in the area wanted to control the region and that any peace talks would only give Muslims "time to conquer territory with swords".

"We have done our best to tell our members, 'don't go and attack Muslims, they are your brother'," Yamsat said. However, "if they come to dislodge you in your place, stand to defend yourself."

Barely controlled rage spilled over in the village as those gathered for the mass burial attacked a Muslim journalist covering the event. The journalist escaped, but others made threats against reporters.