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Mar 16, 3:38 PM EDT

45 killed in ethno-religious clash between herders and farmers in Nigeria, police say

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WARRI, Nigeria (AP) -- Unidentified gunmen shot and killed 45 people in the latest clash believed to be part of ongoing land disputes between mainly Muslim herders and predominantly Christian farmers in central Nigeria, police said Monday.

Survivors put the death toll at nearer 100. Farmer Orji Dooga said he counted 95 bodies from Sunday's attack on the village of Egba in Benue state.

Police suspect a band of Fulani herdsmen, Assistant Supt. Austin Ezeani said. Most victims were children, women and elderly people, he said.

"This is an area that has been volatile for some time," Ezeani said. About 30 people were killed in a similar clash last month.

Thousands have been killed over the years in ongoing land disputes between Fulani herdsmen who are semi-nomadic and mainly Muslims and sedentary farmers who are predominantly Christians from the Tiv tribe. The conflict has grown as global warming causes the Sahara Desert to spread south, and more and more herders move further in the search for grazing land.

Human Rights Watch has blamed the government for not resolving root causes and not prosecuting perpetrators, which allows the cycle of violence to continue as aggrieved victims launch revenge attacks.

The Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has invoked this lack of justice as an excuse for its attacks on Christians though it has killed many more Muslims in its strongholds in northeast Nigeria.

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