Jon Gambrell / Associated Press – 2010-12-05 23:21:05
Nigeria Slaughters Villagers in Raid on Militant
Jon Gambrell / Associated Press
WARRI, Nigeria (December 4, 2010) — Nigerian warplanes bombed a village near a militant camp and soldiers opened fire with machine guns, killing as many as 150 people, human rights activists and witnesses said Friday.
Oghebejabor Ikim, national coordinator for the Forum of Justice and Human Rights Defense, said as many as 150 had died around the village of Ayakoromo, though he could only offer a list of 14 names of those dead who have already been identified. The lawyer said many people remained hiding and mourning in the region’s winding creeks.
The attacks on a village in the Niger Delta continued Friday as the military tried to kill or capture a militant called John Togo who runs the attacked camps and who officials said gave up on a government-sponsored amnesty program. The amnesty program for militants brought an uneasy calm to a region vital to US oil supplies, which is now threatened by new militant attacks and government offensives that put civilians at risk.
In a statement issued late Friday, a military spokesman said any civilian building targeted by soldiers had been used by militants as cover, meaning they became “a military target.”
There appeared to be confusion about whether those in Ayakoromo initially fought back when the military began their assault Wednesday afternoon. Ikim said all of Togo’s fighters left the area before the fighting, while a witness in a nearby village said “there was shooting from both sides.”
Amnesty International issued a statement Friday saying one eyewitness who spoke to its researchers said he saw soldiers transferring more than 20 bodies from boats to military vehicles.
“Indiscriminate attacks by the Nigerian military such as the one reported on Wednesday are wholly unacceptable,” said Lucy Freeman, a Nigeria researcher for the organization. “The Nigerian government has a duty to protect its citizens and disproportionate attacks such as this jeopardize the lives and livelihoods of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”
An independent assessment of the damage and casualties from the attack has yet to be done. The Nigerian Red Cross and other activists have been unable to reach the targeted communities as the military has sealed off the area.
Militants in the Niger Delta have attacked pipelines, kidnapped petroleum company employees and fought government troops since an insurgency began in 2006. The attacks cut drastically into crude production in Nigeria, an OPEC-member nation that is one of the top suppliers of crude oil to the United States. Production has risen back to 2.2 million barrels of oil a day, in part because many militant leaders and fighters accepted the amnesty deal.
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Lawyer: Nigerian Soldiers Killed Civilians
Jon Gambrell / The Associated Press
WARRI, Nigeria (December 4, 2010) — Nigerian soldiers who launched a raid on militants hiding in the nation’s oil-rich southern delta killed civilians and purposely destroyed homes, a human rights lawyer who visited the attacked region said Sunday.
Preye Onduku told The Associated Press he saw the site of one grave containing six civilians allegedly killed by the military during a brief visit Saturday to the village of Ayakoromor. While soldiers blocked journalists from the AP from seeing the Niger Delta village, they allowed Onduku to visit as his father owns a home there.
The fresh grave sits near the ruins of a local court in Ayakoromor, with many other homes destroyed by what appears to be fire and heavy weapons fire, the lawyer said. Onduku said local people told him that soldiers made them bury other bodies in graves around the village and others are feared dead.
The Nigerian military has denied civilians died during the attack to capture a wanted militant leader called John Togo. The general in charge of the military’s operations in the delta has said soldiers only opened fire when someone fired upon them as they neared Ayakoromor’s shoreline at the start of the raid Wednesday.
However, human rights activists say as many as 150 people died as the military used heavy machine gun fire and aerial bombing on the village. Onduku said he saw five people suffering from gunshot wounds during his brief visit.
The military raid came after an unknown number of soldiers died days ago in an effort to apprehend Togo. “They were angry that (the militants) had gone and killed their officers and they went to bomb the community. That is the simple reason,” the lawyer said. “I don’t know whether it is anger or how to put it, but it is cowardice.”
The military has yet to capture Togo. The militant’s lawyer has said his client is “on the high seas” far away from Ayakoromor.
Mamadou Sow, a leader in the Niger Delta with the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the attack displaced more than 200 people, who are now living inside a local schoolhouse. “When the fighting started, they rushed into the forest,” Sow said. “When they got back, their homes were destroyed.” Sow said the Red Cross is providing food and medical treatment to villagers, as is the Nigerian military.
Militant and military attacks are nothing new to the Niger Delta, a region of creeks and mangroves about the size of South Carolina. The attacks from an insurgency that began in 2006 cut drastically into crude production in Nigeria, an OPEC-member nation that is one of the top suppliers of crude oil to the US.
Production has risen back to 2.2 million barrels of oil a day, in part because many militant leaders and fighters accepted a government-sponsored amnesty deal last year.
But as militants over the years profit from kidnapping and oil theft, the military has launched several reprisal massacres against villages. Often, civilians find themselves caught in the middle of a war over oil they never profit from.
Niger Delta Council Confirms Villagers Dead After Army Operation
Benoit Faucon / Dow Jones Newswires
LONDON (December 5, 2010) — A key representative body in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta said at least nine villagers were killed and more than 100 houses destroyed after the army entered a community while chasing militants this week.
Local villagers told Dow Jones they had been shot at by the army’s Joint Task Force, which denies targeting them. The army moved in recent weeks to crush a resurgent militancy in Africa’s largest oil region.
In a media statement, Miabiye Kuromiema, president of the Ijaw Youth Council, or IYC, said he got confirmation that nine people “are confirmed dead, and many more still missing” when he visited the Ayakoromor community Friday.
A spokesman for the JTF said the army was on its way to attack a nearby camp of the militant John Togo when “they came under fire from civilian quarters” in Ayakoromor in Delta State. He said Togo’s men appeared to have taken positions there. The IYC also said “it was discovered that more than a hundred houses were burnt/destroyed, by the JTF.”
The army said that due to the gunfight, “some houses ignited and the fire spread,” but there was no intentional arson. The army spokesman confirmed that nine locals died and said he could no longer rule out they included unarmed civilians. “It cannot be discerned if they were militants or not,” he said.
A person familiar with the identity of the dead said most were elderly, with ages ranging from 40 to 75 and included a woman.
In a phone interview, Jimmy Aye, 50-years old, who sought refuge in the outskirts of the regional capital of Warri, said he was “shot in the back by a stray bullet.” He said none of the locals had fired shots.
Asked if he had seen militants in the community, Aye said, “No. I only saw the army.”
Oyele Mounkuroama, 36, another refugee now in the compound of a local leader in Warri, said his wife was shot twice in the buttocks and that a bullet scratched his face. “They arrived on boats on the river and they began to destroy our property,” he said in a phone interview.
Benoit Faucon, Dow Jones Newswires; firstname.lastname@example.org
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