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Friday, 16 March, 2001, 03:01 GMT
Obasanjo 'regrets' army rampage
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo
President Obasanjo on his tour of Odi in the Niger Delta
By Barnaby Phillips in Yenagoa

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has described the destruction of a town by soldiers in the troubled Niger Delta region as a tragedy that should have been prevented.

On the most sensitive stage of his tour of the Delta, President Obasanjo was speaking to the people of Odi, where soldiers killed dozens of people and burned down hundreds of houses in 1999.

The destruction of the town has become a symbol of the injustice felt by the people of the Niger Delta, and the Nigerian authorities took every precaution on this visit.

Helicopters flew overhead and well-armed Navy boats patrolled surrounding rivers.

Disappointment


President Obasanjo drove through Odi and saw with his own eyes how soldiers burnt down almost every building.

He sent the army into the town in November 1999 to punish local youths who killed several policemen. The soldier who commanded the operation was later promoted.

Before an expectant crowd, a local official told the president that the soldiers had unleashed terror.

Mr Obasanjo responded and said that the events of Odi should never be repeated - but he did not address demands that the government pay compensation, nor that it should fund reconstruction of houses.

Some people said they were disappointed and had expected more tangible commitments from their president.

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