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Tuesday, 30 November, 1999, 13:21 GMT
Niger Delta town 'destroyed and deserted'


By Lagos correspondent Barnaby Phillips

Journalists in Nigeria who have been allowed access to a town in the Niger Delta which was sealed off by the army more than one week ago say there has been widespread destruction and that it is virtually deserted.

The Nigerian army moved into the town of Odi in Bayelsa State nine days ago, after youths there were accused by the government of killing 12 policemen.


There is no need for a speech because there is nobody to speak with
Senate President Chuba Okadigbo in Odi
Their mission was to apprehend the suspected killers of the policemen and to prevent a further breakdown of law and order, but their actions were criticised by human rights groups in Nigeria and abroad.

Now a group of Nigerian journalists accompanying an investigative mission from the National Assembly has been allowed in.

They found evidence that the army had used severe force in Odi.

Many houses have been burnt down. Apart from a few elderly women, the town is almost deserted.

Decomposing bodies

The women said members of their families had been killed by soldiers.

refugees Locals have seen little of the wealth generated by the oil industry
The journalists found three decomposing corpses.

Soldiers in the town refused to answer questions.

The army's intervention has caused bitter resentment in the Niger Delta, especially amongst the Ijaw ethnic group, who make up most of the inhabitants of Odi.

It is not clear whether the army has been successful in catching the youths accused of killing the policemen, but this episode will certainly raise concerns about the protection of human rights in Nigeria's new democracy.

The members of the National Assembly refused to comment but said they would study their findings back in the capital, Abuja.
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See also:
24 Nov 99 |  Africa
Niger Delta remains sealed off
06 Nov 98 |  Africa
Fighting the oil firms
22 Apr 99 |  Crossing continents
Feature: The Akassa approach
03 Jun 99 |  Africa
Nigeria reinforces oil town
07 May 99 |  Africa
New clashes in Nigeria's oil region

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