WARRI — TWENTY-FIVE persons — six children whose ages range between two and seven; 11 septuagenarians, six women and two other villagers were said to have been killed yesterday when Kurutie community came under fresh aerial attacks by the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta.
Over 65 persons had earlier been killed and more than 100 injured since the JTF began its offensive against militants last weekend.
However, the Defence Headquarters, while explaining circumstances that led to the all-out battle to oust the militants warned that the Nigerian military will no longer tolerate or watch criminal gangs slaughter its personnel without response.
It also said no community, particularly in the Ijaw areas, was destroyed or razed down as claimed by many people in the battle area. Director of Defence Information (DDI), Col. Chris Jemitola pointed out that the JTF in carrying out its offensive, has ensured that collateral damage was kept to the barest minimum.
A youth leader from the area, Mr. A.B. Okore was said to have led others to assess the damage done to the community and pick up the corpses yesterday.
According to our source, the youth leader said: “This is genocide, the JTF should please stop the killing of innocent people, if they are looking for militants, they should go to their camps and leave our communities alone”.
A JTF source told Vanguard however that what the JTF did on Sunday was a mop-up operation to strengthen its hold on the areas it was occupying, saying there was no attack on communities, except for a house in Kurutie where some youths fired at the soldiers who were passing with an helicopter and they returned to bomb the house.
“It was because they fired at us that we defended ourselves and anywhere we see them with guns, we will attack them. You see, these militants live in these communities and their people are hiding them, so they should stop lying that the JTF is attacking innocent people. It is those who attacked our men, hijacked vessels and kidnapped hostages that we are looking for,” he added.
Why we struck— Defence HQ
Waving claims of genocide and carnage as mere propaganda aimed at protecting the militants, Jemitola said allegations of genocide are not true noting that before now, “we had appealed to the general public and the elders of these areas to appeal to these youths to stop these unprovoked attacks on military personnel carrying out their constitutional duties of protecting lives and property”.
His words: “On the 13th of May, 2009, members of the JTF, Operation Restore Hope, on routine escort duties around Chanomi Creek were ambushed by a militant group leading to the unfortunate and painful loss of some military personnel.
How militants tortured soldiers to death
“Prior to this, an NNPC chartered tanker CM Spirit had been hijacked with its foreign crew and some Nigerians on board. This vessel was run aground by the militants, who also stole some of its cargo while the crew members were tortured leading to the death of some of the crew members and the rest held hostage.
“JTF Search and Rescue team sent to free the hostages was attacked again by the militants. The search led to the discovery of a large cache of illegal arms and ammunition used for acts of criminality. It must be noted that at no time were members of the JTF aggressors, in fact, the JTF is only allowed the use of force in self defence or where arrest of a criminal is being resisted. Moreover, extra care is taken to reduce collateral damage to the barest”.
Continuing Jemitola said, “instead, what we have observed is the deliberate and repeated unprovoked attacks on JTF troops, the sabotage of oil and gas facilities, the kidnapping for ransom of people and the killing of innocent citizens of the society including children, people of the clergy and very old citizens.
“It is important to note that the Nigerian military has the constitutional responsibility of protecting our vital national interests wherever they may be. In the course of carrying out this responsibility, the military will no longer tolerate or watch criminal gangs slaughter its personnel without response”.
Uduaghan meets Yar’Adua today
Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State is expected to meet with President Umaru Yar’Adua today (Tuesday) in Aso Villa, Abuja, to brief him on the situation in his state and urge him, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to direct the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta to unlock the barricaded waterways of the state so that normal social and economic activities could resume after six days of fighting in the creeks.
A competent source who confirmed the planned meeting to Vanguard said the governor left Warri for Abuja after the State Security Council, weekend, reviewed the security situation in the state and adopted some measures to contain the clashes, one of which was a mandate to some elders and youth leaders to reach out to the youths to cease all forms of confrontation with the JTF and destruction of oil installations.
Gov meets stakeholders
Yesterday morning, Governor Uduaghan held a meeting with the Delta Waterways Security Committee (DWSC), religious leaders and members of the Delta State House of Assembly.
The three different groups commended the initiatives of the Governor in resolving the face-off between the militants and the Joint Task Force.
National President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, (PFN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor led the delegation of the religious leaders, which included the state Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN) Archbishop God-do-Well Avwomakpa, Secretary of the Baptist Convention in the State, Reverend G. Oyibo among other leaders.
Our source confirmed that the Governor briefed them on measures taken to bring the situation under control as well as the need for the ministers to pray for restoration of peace in the state and particularly in the troubled area.
Soldiers invade refugee camp, warn doctors
Hundreds of displaced persons from Oporoza, Kurutie, Kunukunuma and other Gbaramatu–Ijaw communities in Delta State fled their refugee camp in Ogbe-Ijoh on Sunday following the invasion of the camp by the Joint Task Force in search of injured militants.
Vanguard gathered that the soldiers interrogated the doctors on duty for allegedly treating injured militants, an allegation they denied.
Some of the displaced persons who spoke to Vanguard expressed anger that soldiers came to harass them, instead of sympathising with them over their plight.
One of them, Mrs. Josephine Amazor who said she was yet to see her two children, four days after the attack on her community by soldiers said, “can you see, instead of sympathising with us, the soldiers are here to stop us from taking treatment, saying that they suspect that the hospital is treating wounded militants”.
Spokesman of the JTF, Colonel Rabe Abubakar told Vanguard when contacted, yesterday, said that he was not aware that soldiers went to the Ogbe-Ijoh General Hospital to harass any refugee, saying that he would find out the true situation of things.
JTF rescues four more hostages
He however said the JTF has rescued four Ukrainian citizens who were taken hostage. He said the four expatriates were rescued around 4pm on Sunday.
His words: “The latest group of those rescued are four Ukrainian citizens who supply fish to Nigerians on regular bases.
They include, Mr Ponomarev Elman, Mr Mik Hailer, Mr Stroer Roman and Mr Vinogiador Mikael. These men have been doing business in Nigeria since 1993. According to one of them, they were abducted at about 0200am, 15 May 2009 along Chanomi Creek, Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State.”
Spokesman of the rescued group, Mr. Ponomarev Elman, who was also the Captain of the ship, MV Pusan Reefer, said they were 22 in the ship when militants abducted them.
Speaking during the presentation of the four Ukrainians to the media at the Headquarters of the Joint Task Force, Major General Sarkin Bello apologised to the rescued men for the inconveniences caused them.
The four rescued men were later handed over to Mr Tom Enegbuma, the agent and representative of the company, Super-Maritime Nigeria Limited.
More troops deployed for ‘mop-up’ operation
As the JTF continued its onslaught against militants in Warri South West council area of Delta state, more troops were deployed in the creeks yesterday in what was described as a mop-up operation.
In reaction, the Izon-Ebe Oil Producing Communities Forum appealed to President Yar’Adua to intervene in the face-off between the militants and the JTF in the creeks.
The forum stated that their appeal has become imperative as the violence has started affecting the relative peace in the entire area and would soon extend to the entire state if not properly handled.
In a statement signed by the forum’s president, Chief Favour Izuokumor and General Secretary, Mr. Moses O. Edougha they condemned the hostilities as unwarranted and very disturbing, noting that innocent citizens are mostly affected.