Nigeria’s military acknowledged on Sunday that raids in pursuit of an alleged gang leader in the main oil-producing region may have killed civilians, but insisted that only militants were targeted.
The acknowledgement came as those among about 500 people who took refuge in a warehouse after claiming to have fled the village where Wednesday’s operation took place said their relatives were killed by military fire.
“It is possible that one or two or three of those who may have been killed could have been civilians,” said Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Antigha, a spokesman for the task force that carried out the raids.
“There wasn’t 100 percent evacuation [of the village beforehand]. It is possible that among those who were not evacuated could have been civilians caught up,” he said.
Death tolls have varied widely following the raids in Ayakoromo village in the Niger Delta region. Amnesty International said it had received reports of scores killed.
Houses were also burned, but the military said they were not set ablaze intentionally.
Some 500 people had taken refuge in a warehouse on the outskirts of the oil city of Warri and claimed to have fled the village because of the military operation.
One woman said her brother, a Catholic church leader, was among those killed by the military.
“He was shot inside his house,” Stella Oteigba, 55, said. “His body was badly burned.”
“We are appealing to the Nigerian government to stop this madness,” said Garry Stanley, who said he was a former local government official. “We also want them to provide relief materials to the people who have been here for the past four days. Right now our village is under military occupation. Nobody can go back there.”
An activist who visited Ayakoromo on Friday accompanied by the military has said at least nine people were reported killed and dozens of houses were damaged, including some that were burnt.
The raids targeted John Togo, who authorities say is a leader of a criminal gang responsible for piracy, robberies and rape.
Meanwhile, the Niger Delta Liberation Force said yesterday it ruptured an oil pipeline belonging to the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp.
The attack on the pipeline at Batan in Nigeria Delta state took place on Sunday night.
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