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By Garba Muhammed

KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) - At least 14 people were killed in central Nigeria, a government spokesman said on Tuesday, in fighting over grazing land and water, piling pressure on authorities already facing an Islamist insurgency in its northeast and rebels in the oil-rich south.

Semi-nomadic herders shot dead at least 14 villagers and destroyed property in attacks over a 24 hour period in southern Kaduna state, Samuel Aruwan, a spokesman for the governor of Kaduna, said in a statement.

Kaduna - a flashpoint for north-south, Muslim-Christian frictions - has in recent months seen the worst violence since 800 people were killed in riots after elections in 2011.

Aruwan said a curfew "became necessary to protect life and property and avoid the further breakdown of law and order".

"Only essential workers and those on humanitarian services are allowed movement after due clearance by security agencies," he said.

The fighting over scarce resources comes at a particularly sensitive time for Kaduna city, which is about to become the main air hub in central and northern Nigeria, as the capital Abuja's airport closes for runway repairs in March.

The Kaduna state government said on Monday a garrison commander from the Nigerian Army's First Division had been sent to the southern region to coordinate a response to such attacks.

(Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Reuters