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During its December 2001 visit to Benue, and a brief visit to Wukari, in Taraba State, Human Rights Watch was informed about an alarming increase in violence between Tivs and Jukuns in Taraba in the weeks preceding the military operation in Benue. Some of the violence took place around the Taraba-Benue border, leading many local residents (both Jukuns and Tivs) to describe the October 2001 events in Benue as a spill-over of the Taraba conflict. However, there were also numerous attacks in parts of Taraba which are further from the border, including the local government areas of Bali, Ibi, Donga, and Gassol. Human Rights Watch received detailed testimonies from displaced Tivs who had fled their homes in Taraba and had sought refuge in Benue, as well as from Jukuns in Wukari town.

The present report does not attempt to document the long-standing conflict in Taraba State, as a more detailed account would be necessary to do justice to the complexity and gravity of the situation. However, the information summarized below may provide some context for understanding the events which took place in Benue in October 2001.39

The conflict in the Taraba-Benue area, which has been going on for decades, is principally between the Tivs, on the one hand, and the Jukuns, on the other; in recent years, the Jukuns have formed a close alliance with the Fulanis.40 The Jukuns form the majority in Taraba, while the Tivs form the majority in Benue. There are also sizeable Tiv minorities in Taraba, Nasarawa and Plateau states, and a small Jukun minority in Benue. The conflict in Taraba between Tivs and Jukuns has tended to center around competition for land, as well as control over economic resources and political power. Political battles have been especially intense around the control of Wukari, the traditional Jukun center in Taraba State. There have been disputes over the siting of the boundary between Benue and Taraba states, respect (or disrespect) for boundary demarcations, and political control of the border towns and villages. In broad terms, the Jukuns claim to be the original inhabitants of Taraba State, or "indigenes," and consider the Tivs as settlers. The Tivs reject this view, on the basis that they too have been living there for several generations and therefore have equal rights; they complain of being marginalized and excluded in Taraba. Likewise, the Jukun minority in Benue also complain of marginalization, lack of employment opportunities, and insecurity.

There has been periodic fighting between these groups since the late 1950s, with sporadic outbreaks in 1964, 1976, and again in 1990-1992. Over the years, the communities have found increasing difficulty in living together peaceably. Benue is often referred to as the Tiv state, and Taraba as that of the Jukuns. Political polarisation has gradually turned into physical segregation too: as violence has intensified in Taraba, an increasing number of Tivs have fled into Benue. Tivs have complained of persecution in Taraba and talk of a deliberate campaign of "ethnic cleansing," primarily by the Jukuns, allied with the Fulanis, and now additionally backed up by the military. They have claimed that these operations are deliberately timed to ensure that the Jukuns have the political advantage in Taraba in the run-up to elections scheduled in 2003. In addition, the rivalries between Tivs and Jukuns have always had the potential to escalate into an even more serious conflict at the national level, as both groups are well represented in the national army.

The violence in Taraba intensified in the second half of 2001. Organized bands of Tivs, Jukuns, and Fulanis were responsible for scores of deaths of civilians and widespread destruction of homes during this period, with attacks taking place on a weekly, and sometimes a daily basis. From the first week of September 2001 onwards, in particular, there was a series of attacks and counter-attacks by Tiv and Jukun armed groups, including on border towns and villages. These continued into December 2001 and January 2002.

Human Rights Watch interviewed many people who had been displaced from various locations in Taraba; some had been living in camps in Benue for a few days or weeks, others were staying with relatives; others were just arriving. Many of them told Human Rights Watch that paramilitary Mobile Police and, in some cases, soldiers had participated in attacks by Jukuns and had been responsible for some of the killing and destruction in Tiv towns and villages. Government authorities have repeatedly denied that members of the security forces have participated in this conflict; however, testimonies received by Human Rights Watch on this point were remarkably consistent.41

Some of the worst killings in recent months took place in and around the village of Dooshima, in Ibi local government, in Taraba. Dooshima was attacked twice, first on October 1, then again on October 4. Many other villages in the area were also attacked in the following days. While Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm independently all the details of the attack, local sources claim that at least one hundred people, and possibly more than 300, were killed in a combined attack by Jukuns, Fulanis, Mobile Police, and soldiers in Dooshima and neighbouring villages.42 On October 13, the town of Dan-Anacha, in Gassol local government area, in Taraba, was attacked by Jukun militia and Mobile Police. Eye-witnesses described how the police, who had been deployed to protect the town, led the attack, while armed Jukun bands followed; they also said they witnessed Mobile Police taking part in shootings and destruction in several other towns and villages in the area.43

Attacks continued into December 2001. For example, on December 6, soldiers in the company of Jukun militia were reported to have opened fire on a group of people in Tor-Damsa, in Donga local government area, killing at least three people; the village had first been attacked by Jukun and Fulani armed groups on July 2, 2001. Suntai and the surrounding area, in Donga local government, was also the scene of some fierce fighting at the end of November and early December. Scores of people were reportedly killed there in attacks and counter-attacks by Tiv and Jukun armed groups; forty-three men and two women were reportedly killed in Suntai in a Tiv attack on December 6. On December 17, the Jukun village of Chinkai was attacked by a Tiv armed group; Human Rights Watch spoke to some of the people who had been wounded, the day after the attack.44 At the time of writing, in February 2002, attacks and counter-attacks by Jukun and Tiv armed groups are reported to be continuing.

Separate from these types of attacks, soldiers in various locations in Taraba have been responsible for extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, and torture. For example in mid November, a retired Tiv serviceman, who was acting as a spokesman for local villagers, was shot dead by soldiers in Kashimbira local government in Taraba. He had introduced himself to the soldiers to assist them in obtaining local information; on request, he showed them his identity documents. The soldiers, seeing that he was a Tiv, accused him of training youths for attacks. Despite his denials, they killed him. Around the same period, soldiers also killed three youths, after detaining them and ill-treating them for two weeks in their barracks.45

There has also been violent conflict in Nasarawa state, which borders Benue to the west, between the Tivs and other ethnic groups, including an alliance of Jukuns, Fulanis, and Alagos. In 2001, the conflict reached alarming proportions, erupting in February 2001, then again at the end of March, and reaching a peak around June, when hundreds of people were killed and tens of thousands displaced. More than six months later, many of the Tiv who were displaced from Nasarawa are still living in Benue State, in camps with little or no facilities, and a persisting fear of returning to their homes because of the continuing insecurity there.46 In recent months, they have been joined by thousands fleeing the renewed violence in Taraba. At the end of 2001, the situation of the internally displaced populations in Benue State reached a critical point. Conditions were very poor, even though humanitarian agencies were not prevented from assisting the displaced population. When Human Rights Watch visited the area in December, there were still families fleeing daily into Benue, each with their individual testimonies of horror and carnage.

39 A useful analysis of the history and causes of the Tiv-Jukun conflict in Wukari can be found in Shedrack Gaya Best, Alamveabee Efhiraim Idyorough, and Zainab Bayero Shehu, "Communal conflicts and the possibilities of conflicts resolution in Nigeria: a case study of the Tiv-Jukun conflicts in Wukari local government area, Taraba state," in Aonigu Otite and Isaac Olawale Albert (eds.), Community conflicts in Nigeria: management, resolution and transformation (Lagos: Academic Associates PeaceWorks, 1999).

40 This has not always been the case. In previous years, the Fulanis have sometimes sided with the Tivs, particularly in the competition for political positions.

41 In previous years too, members of the security forces, particularly the Mobile Police, are reported to have taken part in the conflict in Taraba State. The Mobile Police are part of the national police force which, like the army, is a federal institution.

42 Human Rights Watch interviews with people displaced from Dooshima, in Agasha camp for the internally displaced, December 15, 2001, and other sources in Makurdi. See also list of sixty-six villages attacked and list of 353 people killed or missing in "The story of Dooshima, Sarkin Gudu and Yamini massacre, 4th October-10th October, 2001," compiled by Shima Ayati, Chairman of the Tiv-Taraba Crisis, Relief Management and Rehabilitation Committee.

43 Human Rights Watch interviews in camp for the internally displaced at Sankera, Benue state, December 19, 2001.

44 Human Rights Watch interviews in Wukari, December 18, 2001.

45 Human Rights Watch interview in Abuja, December 21, 2001.

46 Attacks in Nasarawa were continuing in November and December 2001. In early February 2002, a trickle of people began returning to Nasarawa from Benue, although the overall number of internally displaced in Benue remained high.

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