Several people were killed in religious violence in central Nigeria on Thursday, prompting the military to impose a 24-hour curfew in one region at the border between the West African country's mostly Muslim north and largely Christian south.

Christian and Muslim gangs fighting over ownership of cattle and fertile farmland clashed in Barkin Ladi, an area in the central city of Jos, the capital of Plateau state. Witnesses said they counted at least 10 dead bodies.

"The STF (Special Task Force) has imposed 24 hour curfew in Barkin Ladi. No movement to and out of the council. Lives have been lost. House have been burned. We don't know how many casualties but the loss is enormous," said Charles Ekeocha, spokesman for the STF in Jos, capital of Plateau state.

Nigeria has a roughly equal Christian-Muslim population and more than 200 ethnic groups live side by side, largely peacefully, but violence flares up in Plateau and other parts of the "Middle Belt" from time to time.

Violence in Plateau can quickly escalate into a series of tit-for-tat attacks. More than 50 people were killed inside a week in September, and hundreds died there early this year.

The tensions are rooted in fierce competition for local political power and control of fertile farmland, and local government policies have done little to calm them.

The unrest is an unwelcome challenge for President Goodluck Jonathan, who is already dealing with near-daily attacks in the northeast by the Islamist sect Boko Haram.

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