At least four killed in ethnic clashes in eastern Nigeria: police

MAIDUGURI Nigeria Mon Jun 16, 2014 9:48am EDT

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MAIDUGURI Nigeria (Reuters) - At least four people were killed and houses torched in ethnic clashes between rival groups in Nigeria's eastern Taraba state, police said on Monday, the latest violence to flare up in the country's volatile "Middle Belt".

The violence did not appear to be related to militant group Boko Haram, which has killed thousands since 2009 and stepped up attacks after abducting more than 200 girls from a school in northeast Nigeria.

However, it illustrates longstanding ethnic tensions in Africa's most populous country and biggest economy.

Taraba state is part of Nigeria's Middle Belt where its largely Christian south and mostly Muslim north meet, making it a flashpoint for violence, often over land disputes between semi-nomadic, cattle-keeping communities, who tend to be Muslim, and settled farming people, who are often Christian.

The violence started early on Sunday when youths burned downed two kiosks in a Muslim community in the small commercial town of Wukari, Taraba state police spokesman Joseph Kwaji said.

Gunshots were later heard and numerous houses torched, Kwaji said, adding that four people were confirmed killed.

Nigerian media reported that more than 25 people were feared dead after the clash, although Reuters was unable to independently verify that number.

Last year similar clashes in Wukari killed at least 39 people.

(Reporting by Isaac Abrak; Writing by David Dolan; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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