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 Thursday, 2 January, 2003, 13:24 GMT
Nigerian leader sorry for army massacre
Zaki Bam
Zaki Bam was one of the towns attacked by the soldiers
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has publicly apologised for the killing of more than 200 unarmed civilians by the army in Benue State in October 2001.

He was speaking at a meeting of local Christian groups in the state capital, Makurdi.

Nigeria map
The army has been accused of several mass killings since civilian rule was restored in Nigeria in 1999.

Mr Obasanjo is seeking re-election in April and this Sunday faces a former minister from Benue State in primaries for the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP).

Correspondents say the apology may be an attempt to win votes.

The killing of ethnic Tivs was apparently in retaliation for the abduction and murder of 19 soldiers sent to quash fighting between Tivs and Jukuns, the biggest group in neighbouring Taraba State.

Bullet-ridden

The Nigerian Government has been strongly condemned by the New York-based Human Rights Watch for first encouraging, then failing to condemn, the military action.

"I am sorry, it should never have happened," Mr Obasanjo said.

President Olusegun Obasanjo
Obasanjo is seeking re-election

Over a three-day period, soldiers entered a series of towns and villages, including Zaki Bam, in Benue State and opened fire on unarmed residents.

Journalists who arrived at the scene less than 24 hours after the soldiers had left saw scores of bullet-ridden corpses and every single building razed to the ground in towns otherwise deserted by their terrified populations.

A Human Rights Watch report said that those killed by the military were targeted simply because they were Tivs.

The French news agency, AFP, says that Mr Obasanjo has not apologised for the army massacre in the southern town of Odi, in which thousands of people were killed.

Barnabas Gemade from Benue State is one of the five people vying for the PDP presidential nomination.

The BBC's Nigeria correspondent, Dan Isaacs, says that if Mr Obasanjo can win the PDP nomination, he stands a good chance of re-election.


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24 Oct 01 | Africa
27 Nov 01 | Africa
16 Mar 01 | Africa
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