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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 17:25 GMT
Army 'genocide' says Nigerian speaker
Zaki Biam
Zaki Biam borne the brunt of the military action
Dan Isaacs in Nigeria

One of Nigeria's most senior politicians has strongly condemned the killing last month of more than 200 unarmed civilians in central Benue state by soldiers.

After a visit with a parliamentary group to the destroyed towns and villages, the speaker of the House of Assembly, Ghalin Na'Abba, described the attacks as an act of near genocide.

Nigeria map

President Olusegun Obasanjo has justified the army action as part of a peace-keeping operation to deal with the conflict between the Tiv and the Jukun peoples of the area and rejected calls for the soldiers responsible to be punished.

Although a judicial inquiry has been ordered into the army's action and events that led up to it, it has not yet started its work.

Shaken

After inspecting the destroyed town of Zaki Biam and its surrounding villages Mr Na'Abba and his parliamentary colleagues said they were deeply shocked at the destruction they had witnessed.

He said that soldiers are supposed to defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria and not shoot fellow Nigerians.

Mr Obasanjo had said that soldiers are trained to kill and if deployed that is what they will do.

Local residents flee Zaki Biam
Hundreds had to leave their homes

Accompanying Mr Na'Abba on his tour was the traditional leader of the Tiv people who bore the brunt of the army operation.

Chief Alfred Torkula appealed to the government to withdraw the troops which he said were still active in Benue state harassing and torturing his people.

Tiv women, he said, were being particularly singled out by the army.

These comments follow similiar statements made in recent days by politicians and traditional leaders both in Abuja and in Benue state who have expressed their disquiet at the government's muted response to the army killings.

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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