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At least 40 die in Nigeria clashes

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LAGOS, Nigeria (Reuters) -- At least 40 people, including a soldier and seven policemen, were shot and hacked to death in fresh clashes between villagers in northeastern Nigeria, police said Monday.

A police spokesman said the fighting, which broke out Thursday in the Song district of Adamawa state, was not part of the political violence gripping Nigeria in advance of April's national elections.

Media reports said most of the casualties were in the farming village of Dumne, which was attacked by nomadic Fulani herdsmen Thursday, apparently to avenge killings in a similar outbreak of violence last September.

Dumne is about 35 miles north of Yola, capital of Adamawa state, which is more than 600 miles northeast of Lagos.

The Fulani and ethnic Yugur farmers have clashed repeatedly over farm and grazing land, including deadly skirmishes last September.

"We have confirmed a total of 40 people killed," police spokesman Chris Olakpe said in Abuja. "This figure is made up of a soldier, seven policemen and 32 civilians. Two arrests have been made and they are helping the police in its investigations.

"As we speak, a joint police and military task force is patrolling the area and has managed to restore calm," Olakpe said. "We don't think there was any political undertone to it."

He said security forces had been sent to quell the unrest but were killed by the warring factions. He gave no further details.

Police also said they were investigating reports by villagers that armed Chadians triggered the bloodbath with an invasion of one of the most remote corners of Nigeria.

Border villages and interior towns in a large swath of northern Nigeria have in recent years reported attacks by armed bandits from civil war-ravaged Chad in the northeast area and from Niger in the northwest.

Olakpe said he had heard the reports of possible Chadian involvement, adding: "We are still investigating that aspect."

Analysts said the heavy police toll in the latest clash underlined the tough task facing security forces as the oil-producing country braces for what many fear will be violent elections.

The polls are Nigeria's first since 15 years of army rule ended in 1999 with the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Since then, an estimated 10,000 people have died in bouts of political, religious and ethnic bloodletting across Nigeria.

On Sunday, militant ethnic Ijaw youths gave Nigeria seven days to meet a series of mainly political demands or face "massive action" that could affect oil multinationals in the western Niger Delta.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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