Calls for calm as community tensions rise in Nigeria

Abuja (AFP) – Nigeria’s military on Friday branded a pro-Biafra group “a militant terrorist organisation”, as state governors moved to calm fears of a wider outbreak of ethnic violence.

In recent days, members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement have clashed with security services in the southern city of Port Harcourt and southeastern state of Abia.

The military claims a build-up of troops in Abia around the home of IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, in the state capital, Umuahia, is part of an operation against violent crime.

But IPOB suspects it is designed to crack down on its activities. The group wants an independent state for the Igbo people who dominate the southeast.

Clashes risked taking on a wider ethnic dimension after youths from the Hausa ethnic group dominant in the north attacked Igbo market traders in the central city of Jos.

Amnesty International, which has alleged military abuses against IPOB protesters in the past, called for calm and restraint on all sides in response to the southeast unrest.

Defence spokesman Major General John Enenche meanwhile rejected claims from IPOB that it is non-violent, saying it had been “terrorising the general public”.

The group had formed its own intelligence service and national guard, blocked public roads and extorted money at illegal checkpoints, he said in an emailed statement.

Stones, Molotov cocktails and broken bottles were used against troops, he said, adding that IPOB “from all intent, plan and purpose… is a militant terrorist organisation”.

– ‘Avoidable and unnecessary’ –

Nigeria, which is almost evenly split between a predominantly Muslim north and largely Christian south, is a country of barely concealed religious and ethnic tensions.

Violence frequently erupts but Biafra is a particularly sensitive issue as a previous unilateral declaration of independence in 1967 sparked a brutal, 30-month civil war.

More than one million people were killed, most of them Igbos.

In Jos, the capital of the central state of Plateau, governor Simon Lalong summoned Hausa and Igbo community leaders for talks following skirmishes on Thursday.

At least two people were reported to have been killed in violence at two markets but police managed to restore control by firing warning shots into the air, eye-witnesses said.

The Hausa youths reportedly accused the Igbos of “killing Hausas in the southeast”, although there has been no official confirmation of such claims.

Lalong, who called the clashes “avoidable and totally…

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