KADUNA, Nigeria, March 16 (Reuters) - Gunmen killed more than 100 people in an attack on three villages in central Nigeria, an area where longstanding disputes over land, religion and ethnicity often erupt into violence, two local government officials said on Sunday.
The police confirmed the raids by Fulani herdsman late on Friday on the villages of Ugwar Sankwai, Ungwan Gata and Chenshyi, in Kaduna state, but declined to give a death toll.
Hundreds have been killed in the past year in clashes pitting the cattle-herding and largely Muslim Fulani people against mostly Christian settled communities like the Berom in Nigeria's volatile "Middle Belt", where its mostly Christian south and Muslim north meet.
"Fulani gunmen came across from neighbouring Plateau state and just opened fire on the villagers at around 11 p.m.," said Daniel Anyip, vice chairman of the Kaura local government authority. "We are still picking bodies out of the bush but so far there is more than 100 killed."
Human Rights Watch in December said sectarian clashes in the nation's religiously mixed central region have killed 3,000 people since 2010, adding that Nigerian authorities had largely ignored the violence, a charge they denied.
Though it sometimes takes on a sectarian character, the violence is fundamentally about decades-old land disputes between semi-nomadic, cattle-keeping communities such as the Fulani and settled farming peoples like the Berom, both often armed with automatic weapons.
Such battles, far from economic centres or oil fields in Africa's second-biggest economy and top oil producer, rarely capture the attention of its elites.