- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2000

Nigerian violence

Advocates for religious freedom are urging President Clinton to raise concerns about violence between Christians and Muslims when he travels to Nigeria next week.

Mr. Clinton plans to visit Nigeria from Aug. 25 to 27 "to underscore [U.S.] support for Nigeria's impressive democratic transformation under President [Olusegun] Obasanjo's government and for Nigeria's leadership role in the region," the White House stated when it announced the trip earlier this month.

However, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom believes Mr. Obasanjo has done too little to stop the conflict in several northern Nigerian states, where the local governments are imposing Islamic criminal law on non-Muslims.

The violence has "claimed hundreds of lives, displaced thousands and destroyed many places of worship, homes and businesses," commission Chairman Elliott Abrams said in a letter to Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Abrams, an assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration, wrote: "It appears that there has been deliberate targeting of Christians and their institutions based solely on their religious affiliation.

"These attacks have triggered reprisals against Muslims in southern states. This strife threatens to halt the progress of democratic transformation and to destabilize the country and the surrounding West African region."

Mr. Obasanjo has had "limited success" in trying to reduce the violence, Mr. Abrams said.

"He has spoken out publicly against both the violence and the recent announcement that Islamic law would be implemented in Kano state… .

"Muslim and Christian religious leaders have also spoken out against the violence. However, [the] government has been unable to check the violence and bring the perpetrators to justice. More fundamentally, the federal government has not challenged the imposition of Islamic law on non-Muslims, which lies at the heart of the problem."

The commission, created by Congress to monitor religious freedom, urged Mr. Clinton to "impress on President Obasanjo the high priority that [the U.S.] government will continue to place on religious freedom in its relations with Nigeria."

"We ask that you urge President Obasanjo to do all he can to restore order and to ensure that the application of religious law anywhere in the country be done in consonance with the [Nigerian] constitution's separation of church and state and with international covenants of human rights," Mr. Abrams wrote.

Meanwhile in Nigeria

Nigeria has some complaints of its own, as President Clinton prepares for his visit.

The government is upset by U.S. Embassy procedures for approving visas for Nigerians.

Nigeria will no longer tolerate the "deliberate frustration and denial of United States visas to genuine Nigerians wishing to travel to the United States," the Nigerian Foreign Ministry said in a statement last week.

It said that the problem had been the subject of "high-level government discussions" and added that "the continued recalcitrance of the United States Embassy in Nigeria over the issuance of American visas has become an embarrassment."

The statement followed a meeting between Dubem Onyia, minister of state for foreign affairs, and Richard Kaminski, the embassy's political officer.

An embassy spokesman told the Agence France-Presse the United States is following procedure.

"All visa requests are vetted strictly in accordance with standard U.S. laws and visa regulations, as everywhere in the world," the spokesman said.

The visa issue is not expected to be a major topic in talks between Mr. Clinton and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Nigerian Embassy spokesman here said. Those discussions will remain at lower diplomatic levels.

"It will come on the technical side, at the bilateral ministerial level," Mr. Onyia told Nigeria's Guardian newspaper on Tuesday. "Our president won't take him on that, even though it will be addressed as a high point."

Mr. Onyia also said his government is finalizing plans for the visit, which will probably be limited to the capital, Abuja.

The two presidents will address local and regional security, U.S. assistance in restructuring Nigeria's military, trade, and debt issues, Mr. Onyia said.

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