Religious freedom advocacy Christian Solidary Worldwide has called for the Nigerian Government to make addressing violence between Fulani herdsmen and villagers in the country's Benue State a priority after reports than more than 10 villages remain under siege by the herdsmen.

The siege, revealed this week, comes weeks after security forces drove the herdsmen out of five communities following attacks in March in the Agatu Local Government Area in which at least 500 people are believed to have died and schools, health centres, worship centres and the area police station had been burnt down.

Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of CSW, said it was "deeply worrying" to hear that communities in Agatu remain under siege "weeks after security forces were sent there" and said that the scale of the attacks indicated "it has mutated far beyond inter-communal competition for resources into a significant threat to national security".

"Addressing this violence must become a priority, with attacks being met by an effective defence of besieged communities, as well as of herders who are legitimate victims of cattle rustling," he said.

"Murder, rape and destruction of personal and federal property are criminal acts; consequently perpetrators ought to be apprehended, disarmed and prosecuted in order to combat lawlessness and impunity."

Earlier this month, the World Watch Monitor reported Benue State, described as the "food basket" of Nigeria, was becoming the latest battleground in what former US ambassador John Campbell termed a looming “religious war” and a situation that had, according to the US Commission for international Religious Freedom, claimed as many lives as Boko Haram terrorists had killed in one period under review.

"Religiously-related violence has led to more deaths in northern Nigeria than have Boko Haram attacks, WWM reported commission chairwoman Katrina Lantos Swett saying in April, 2013, following attacks by Fulani herdsmen.

World Watch Monitor says the parallels with Boko Haram – the world’s deadliest terror group – go further. Like Boko Haram, the Fulani are Muslim. Similarly, their victims are overwhelmingly Christians and non-Muslims. They cry “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is the greatest) during their attacks, and they leave atrocities in their wake.

~ www.csw.org.uk

- with World Watch Monitor