At least 48 people have been killed in ethnic violence in central Nigeria, a military spokesman has said.

"We now have a total of 48 dead from the attacks on three villages," Captain Salisu Mustapha, spokesman for a military task force in the region, told AFP on Friday.

He said the dead included 28 residents and 20 assailants killed by soldiers who responded to the violence on Thursday.

Community leaders say the violence began after a spate of cattle thefts in Nigeria's central Plateau state.

Thousands of people in Nigeria have been killed in similar violence since 1999.

Source: Agencies