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Monday, 29 October, 2001, 16:48 GMT
Obasanjo slated after Nigeria killings
Zaki Biam
The town of Zaki Biam was destroyed by the soldiers
By Nigeria correspondent Dan Isaacs in Lagos

There has been a strong reaction from human rights groups within Nigeria to the statement issued by the authorities on the attacks by soldiers last week in the central state of Benue

The army attacks, in which more than 200 civilians were killed, took place in towns and villages near Benway's border with Teraba state.

Witnesses described soldiers shooting indiscriminately at unarmed civilians.

But Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo did not criticise the actions of the army, but forcefully condemned the deaths of 19 soldiers three weeks ago at the hands of a local militia group.

The incident that apparently sparked the army reprisals.

After the violent reprisals by Nigerian soldiers, Mr Obasanjo's comments had been keenly awaited.

Particularly, as his army chief of staff had already denied that his soldiers had been involved in any atrocities.


But when the president's comments did come, they were met with widespread disappointment by human rights groups in particular.

President Olusegun Obasanjo
Obasanjo's reaction has disappointed many
Although the president strongly condemned the actions of local militia groups in Benue state he apparently saw little wrong in subsequent army reprisals in which soldiers systematically rounded up people and shot them in the streets.

Soldiers are trained to kill he said, and if deployed, that is what they will do.

If the soldiers are put into that situation he said, and things go wrong, you cannot blame them.

Abdul Oroh of the Civil Liberties organisation told the BBC that the army action in Benue last week was unquestionably a human rights violation.

Power game

He said that it was an act of premeditated murder and that no evidence had been produced that the soldiers were shooting in self defence as the government has claimed.

Local residents flee Zaki Biam
Many residents fled for their lives
Another human rights worker Clement Nwankwo of the Constitutional Rights Project said the president should be made liable for comments he made which could only be interpreted as a clear incitement for the army to carry out the attacks.

The former army chief of staff, General Victor Malu, who lost three members of his family and had his housed destroyed by the army attacks last week has described the attacks as a deliberate military genocide against the Tiv people.

It was to put down rising tensions between the Tiv ethnic group and their neighbours the Jukun that the army had originally been deployed in the area.

Many people see this and other violent conflicts that have erupted in the country in recent months not as spontaneous, but as being instigated by politicians playing a very dangerous power game in the run up to forthcoming presidential elections in Nigeria.

See also:

24 Oct 01 | Africa
Nigeria: Crisis in Benue state
28 Jun 01 | Africa
Villagers 'massacred' in Nigeria
29 May 99 | Africa
Profile: Olusegun Obasanjo
07 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Nigeria
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