State Department condemns violence in Nigeria

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, along with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, has issued a joint statement condemning the violence between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, particularly in the province of Jos.

We express our deep regret at the recent violence and tragic loss of lives in Jos, and extend our sympathies to the bereaved and injured. We urge all parties to exercise restraint and seek peaceful means to resolve differences between religious and ethnic groups in Nigeria. We call on the Federal Government to ensure that the perpetrators of acts of violence are brought to justice and to support interethnic and interfaith dialogue.

The AP reports that the violence killed around 200 people and included the burning of a mosque and the forcible eviction of Muslims from their homes by men dressed as military or police officers.

The state police commissioner said it started after Muslim youths set a Christian church ablaze, but Muslim leaders denied that. Other community leaders said the violence began over the rebuilding of a Muslim home destroyed in November 2008 that was located in a predominantly Christian neighborhood.

Witnesses said rioters armed with knives, homemade firearms and stones had attacked passers-by and fought with security forces, leaving bodies in the street and stacked in mosques.

Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Danbazau refused to speculate on its cause, saying that “every side will give its own version.”

But he confirmed accounts that some Muslims had been dragged out of their homes and shot by men dressed in what appeared to be army uniforms. He said five of the suspects arrested were dressed in khaki army-style uniforms and claimed to be police officers, though only one of the five men could provide police identification.

The Bishop of Benin, Bishop Peter Imasuen, was kidnapped and later freed, according to the newspaper the Vanguard.

Now there is tension because some of the bodies of Christians killed in the fighting may have been taken to local mosques and the Bishop of Jos, The Most Rev Ben Kwashi, wants them returned. Kwashi claims that Christians are being made “scapegoats” for the violence in his region.

Archbishop Kwashi said: “At the heart of this is that they [Muslims] want to overrun this part of the world and make it Islamic. The operation is like terrorism.”

He said that Christians in Jos in church on Sunday had been in tears because so many of their loved ones had disappeared in last week’s violence and they had been unable to find their bodies.

“This means that the corpses we are shown on television in the mosque must include people the Muslims have killed,” he said. “Quite a number of local people, Christians and other non-Muslims, are finding that people are missing. They have been looking around for the last three days and can’t find them. They have come to the conclusion that their bodies are among the corpses in the mosque that are being used to whip up emotion against the church.

Julia Duin reports in the Washington Times that the retiring Archbishop of Nigeria will be coming to the United States:

…the Anglican archbishop of all Nigeria, Peter Akinola, will be in town in less than two weeks. The Convocation of Anglicans in North America is having a Communion service and reception in his honor 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 10 at Truro Church in Fairfax with one of his proteges, Bishop Martyn Minns, preaching. There will be a reception afterwards. Archbishop Akinola steps down from his position in March. Other churches and overseas guests will be present, so this is evidently quite a large reception.

I am guessing Archbishop Akinola might have something to say about what’s going on in Nigeria, if not at Truro, maybe at an earlier reception that day at the Metropolitan Club downtown.

Maybe while he’s in town, someone from the State Department might want to ask the Archbishop what concrete steps has he taken to ensure “interethnic and interfaith dialogue?”

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