Army: 14 killed in Niger Delta raids
15 December 2010, 15:28
Abuja - Soldiers and civilians were killed during an assault by Nigeria's armed forces on militant camps in the oil-producing Niger Delta two weeks ago, the army chief said late on Tuesday, highlighting the intensity of the violence.
Army chief of staff Onyeabo Ihejirika said eight soldiers and six civilians were killed during the army, navy and air force raids against camps believed to belong to notorious gang leader John Togo in Delta state on December 01.
The Nigerian military rarely comments on reports of soldiers or civilians being killed in clashes in the creeks of the Niger Delta, home to Africa's biggest oil and gas industry. Activists have meanwhile sometimes exaggerated the civilian death toll.
Local civil rights groups have accused the armed forces of deliberately targeting civilians and burning homes during fighting in the community of Ayakoromo, close to Togo's suspected hideouts. Togo remains at large.
The army has said his followers fled into Ayakoromo and then engaged soldiers in a gun fight.
"We lost a total of eight soldiers in the cross-fire and we also received reports from those on the ground that six civilians were killed during that operation," Ihejirika said.
He said President Goodluck Jonathan had asked the army to rebuild homes that were destroyed in the attack.
Jonathan is the first Nigerian head of state from the Niger Delta and helped broker an amnesty there last year. The perception that he is unable to maintain security in his ethnic homeland risks undermining his credibility ahead of nationwide elections next April.
Ayakoromo elders said on Monday that 51 people had been killed and that soldiers had forced villagers to dig mass graves before allowing access to rights groups.
The Ijaw Youth Council, a major rights group in the Niger Delta, and aid workers have said nine civilians were killed.