JANUARY 24 2010 18:02h
While fighting subsided in the central city and troops were deployed to end the unrest, residents said they were too frightened to stay.
Frightened residents flooded a military checkpoint to flee the Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday after Muslim-Christian clashes that killed nearly 500 people and gutted scores of buildings.
While fighting subsided in the central city and troops were deployed to end the unrest, fleeing residents said they were too frightened to stay.
At a military checkpoint on the outskirts of Jos, where long lines of cars and buses carrying residents formed, soldiers searched all vehicles, an AFP reporter saw. Several vehicles were laden with baggage.
"The last few days have been very traumatising for me and my two children," Samira Yaya, 32, told AFP as she was leaving Jos.
"My husband is out of the country on a business trip. We were indoors without food or water with killings and burnings all around us. I am going to Kano to stay with my family until my husband returns. I feel uneasy here."
Danladi Kabir, a 28-year-old trader, told AFP as he crammed luggage into a taxi that he was leaving Jos for his Jigawa home state in Northern Nigeria.
"My family in Jigawa has been agitated over the fighting in Jos and my safety," he said. "The best way to assure them I am alive is to visit home."
At least 178 bodies have so far been recovered from wells and pits after the clashes, Kuru Karama village head Umar Baza said Sunday, taking the unofficial death toll compiled from various sources to 492.
State officials have given no official death toll for the violence, which broke out in Jos, the capital of Plateau State, on January 17 and spread to nearby towns and villages.
Dozens of cars, houses, churches and mosques were also burnt during four days of unrest. An overnight curfew remained in effect between 5:00 pm and 10:00 am.
Kuru Karama, a former mining village, is a Muslim enclave in a Christian region 30 kilometres (18 miles) south of Jos.
Global rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) told AFP on Saturday that, according to figures provided by Muslim leaders, at least 364 Muslims died in the clashes.
"As of (Friday), at least 364 Muslims have died in Jos, including those found in wells in Kuru Karama. This information was provided by Muslim officials in Jos," HRW's spokesman Eric Guttschuss told AFP by telephone from Washington.
Although the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has not provided a comprehensive death toll of its members in the fighting, one of its officials, Chung Dabo, had earlier told AFP that 55 Christians died.
During a Sunday sermon before about 3,000 faithful at Saint Michael's Catholic Cathedral in Jos, located at the heart of the fighting, the city's head of the Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, criticised Christians and Muslims involved in the violence and those who instigated it.
"We are potentially a great country but we are messing up and we have to accept that fact," he said.
"Our diversity is meant to create harmony and not disharmony. But we are using our differences to unleash destruction and cause problems for ourselves. Instead of focusing on technology, science and development, we are wasting precious time and energy on mutual altercation," he stated.
Christian and Muslim leaders in Plateau State have both said the unrest owed more to the failure of political leaders to address ethnic differences than inter-faith rivalries.
Kaigama called on members of the two religious communities to return to God because "if we don't come back to Him, we shall continue to go in cycles of violence, destruction and killings".
Jos has long been a hotbed of religious violence in Nigeria, whose 150 million people are divided almost equally between followers of the two faiths.
An estimated 200 people were killed in religious clashes in the city in late 2008.