Governors of 19 northern Nigerian states have agreed toestablish a joint Muslim-Christian committee in an effort to end theviolence sparked by efforts to implement Islamic Sharia law in somenorthern states.

"We have resolved to constitute a committee made up of Muslim andChristian leaders to hold a dialogue on those aspects of sharia notincluded in the penal code and arrive at a consensus for adoption," reada letter published April 4 by Nigerian media, Reutersreported.

The predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria practiced Sharia fordecades under British colonial rule and continued to do so since winningindependence in 1960 but it has not formally supplanted the Nigerianpenal code.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population innorthern Nigeria, fear some aspects of Islamic law are harsher than theNigerian secular law. Tensions over the matter escalated in January whenthe primarily Muslim rural state of Zamfara announced it would adoptSharia law.

Fearful the city of Kaduna would follow suit, Christians there heldstreet protests in February and fought with Muslims in a bloody conflictin which hundreds of people died. Reprisal killings in the Iboheartland, predominantly Christian, claimed the lives of hundreds ofnorthern Muslim immigrants.

In the aftermath of the violence in Kaduna came demands for a"sovereign national conference" to resolve conflicts between Nigeria'spopulation groups, but the governors' letter denounced the idea.

"We uphold the federal structure of Nigeria and condemn the call fora sovereign national conference in its entirety," the letter read. "Wereaffirm our total support to the federal government under theleadership of President Olusegun Obsanjo."