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19 dead in Nigeria machete attacks

Men armed with rifles and machetes have killed 19 people in attacks on three villages in volatile central Nigeria.

Three homes were attacked in the Christian village of Kuru Station about 18 miles from the central Nigerian city of Jos, a flashpoint of religious tension between Christians and Muslims, a community leader said.

"It was a very terrible scene, a very pathetic scene," Riyom local government chairman Simon Mwaekwom said.

He said villagers told him armed men woke up the houses' occupants in the middle of the night with gunshots and forced them out before setting their homes ablaze and attacking them with machetes. In total, 19 people, including women and children, died in the assaults and at least three others were injured, police said.

"Those that escaped said they saw military men - the military men were shooting and the other people burning the houses and macheteing the villagers," Mr Mwaekwom said.

He said the villagers claimed to have picked up two identification cards left behind by military attackers, but the military disputed their claim and said villagers attacked the soldiers in retaliation.

"When you lose someone, it is a period of anguish and reactions can come in different folds," said Brigadier Hassan Umaru, commandant of the Plateau State Special Task Force. "After the attack, the villagers went to the soldiers' living quarters, brought out their properties and burned them. It was thereafter that they said they got an ID card."

A military post stands about 200 metres away from the scene of the attack. The villagers told Mr Mwaekwom that they had asked the soldiers for help and that they refused. "If there was anything like that and the soldiers did not respond, appropriate disciplinary action will be taken against them," Brig Umaru said. "We will not allow that to happen."

Brig Umaru said that Fagawon, another predominantly Christian village about 50 miles from Jos, was attacked soon after the incident in Kuru Station. He said two people were killed and three houses and three motorcycles were burned.

Sectarian violence has been on the rise in recent weeks in Jos and surrounding areas.

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