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Soldiers kill 15 in fresh invasion of Ijaw villages

Posted by By Kingsely Omonobi, John Ighodaro, Osaro Okhomina on 2004/07/23 | Views: 2560 |

Soldiers kill 15 in fresh invasion of Ijaw villages

WARRI—THE fragile peace initiative in Warri suffered a major blow yesterday after some men in military uniform allegedly invaded five Ijaw villages along the Benin River in Warri North local government area of Delta State, killing 15 people.

*As Police arrest 74 over Port Harcourt mayhem

WARRI—THE fragile peace initiative in Warri suffered a major blow yesterday after some men in military uniform allegedly invaded five Ijaw villages along the Benin River in Warri North local government area of Delta State, killing 15 people.

At least six villages—Sunny Zion, Idegbagbene, Odiogbogbene, Ayoungbene-Gbene, Opia, Ogbingbiri, all in the Egbema clan—were razed by the invaders said to be in pursuit of suspected killers of oil workers including two Americans.

Ijaw of Egbema, reacting to the development, threatened to withdraw from the recent peace accord reached with the Itsekiri, wondering why they should be negotiating and signing peace accords when the same government preaching peace was sponsoring attacks against them. This came on a day the Delta State government announced the lifting of the curfew on Warri.
However, the police in Rivers State have arrested no fewer than 74 people in connection with Tuesday’s mayhem in Port Harcourt, with the leader of an illegal armed gang, Dokubo Asari, accusing the police of gunning down 11 of his supporters.

A member of the Warri Ijaw/Itsekiri Grassroots Youth Forum and the Ijaw/Itsekiri Peace Committee, Apostle Sunny Jero, was a major casualty of Tuesday’s mayhem in Warri as seven of his houses were razed, his property looted and his family driven into the bush.

The Egbema United Front, speaking through Messrs. Sunny Jero, Israel Tiemi and Prince Gandi Soroaye, lamented the burning of their villages, murder of their people and confiscation of their homes by men in military uniform, saying the action was a kind of vendetta against the Ijaw. "We have come a long way as a result of these peace meetings and accords. Our people are worried that we are going ahead with these peace meetings and we have been trying to enlighten them but look at the way we are being rewarded.

"On Sunday, July 11 and Monday, July 12, those men in military uniform attacked our villages with all the paraphernalia of an invading army, shooting indiscriminately, killing innocent people and destroying villages. In fact, many of our people, women and children who survived the invasion are now in the bush, some with just pants and T-shirts.

"The people came in gunboats with heavy weaponry as early as 9a.m. and started shooting at anything that was on sight. My wives, children were there.

They ran into the bush. It was terrible. And to think that we are part of the peace process and our villages are being burnt down, is this the away peace is found? Right now, the people of these areas particularly those of them who are alive cannot be accounted for. So many of them were killed.
"We the Egbema people condemn in its entirety, the unjust attack, killing of our people and burning of our villages.

It is barbaric. It has shown that our mind has changed towards the peace process. How can they expect us to continue to discuss peace and they are treating us this way? Except something is done immediately, we would withdraw from the peace process because the impression now is that they (government) don’t really want peace after all."

And in Asaba, two community leaders of Ogbinbiri told reporters that about 200 Ijaw, including women and children, were missing on account of the invasion.

Chief Layema Kuruma and Chief Jackson Lawuru said the latest invasion came on the heels of the assault on Ogbudugbudu by military men in search of the killers of oil workers and two naval personnel.

A source in the Joint Military Task Force for the Niger Delta confirmed that personnel of the task force were sent to some reverine communities in the Benin River area but noted that they were there for cordon and search operations.

Said the source: "We have received several information and our intelligence has shown that most of the armed robbery activities in Sapele, Oghara and piracy on the waterways along the Benin River are the handiwork of robbers who use these areas as hideout. However, I want to assure you that nobody was killed during the operation. If they lay hold to their claims, let them produce the corpses of the people killed. We only went for the robbers there."

However, in a statement yesterday, Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, announced the total lifting of the curfew on Warri imposed in the wake of the last mayhem there.

Police arrest 74 in Port Harcourt

Meanwhile, the police have arrested no fewer than 74 people over Tuesday’s mayhem at Amadi-Ama in Port Harcourt. The police also seized 80 sophisticated weapons, three assault rifles, two Berretta pistols and a large quantity of ammunition when they raided the scene of conflict to restore peace.

About 11 people died in the mayhem triggered by a face off among members of a militant group called Bush Boys of Okrika.
The Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Sylvester Araba, who confirmed the number of people arrested by his men and the number of weapons and quantity of ammunition seized, however, did not confirm the number of people who died in the mayhem.

The state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Magnus Abe, urged the people of the state to be calm, saying the measures taken by government at Amadi-Ama were to rid the place of dangerous cultists. "There was a joint operation by security agencies in the Amadi-Ama and Tere-Ama axis of Port Harcourt local government area as part of on-going efforts to rid the state of cultists. As a result, the area witnessed sporadic shooting of firearms in the early hours of today (yesterday). Several arrests have been made and arms and ammunition as well as military uniform recovered. Those arrested have made useful statements to the security agents. The people of the state are, therefore, advised to go about their normal businesses as the raid on cultists is in the interest of everybody," he said.

The leader of an illegal armed group, Dokubo Asari, said on telephone that 11 of his gunmen were shot dead in the mayhem.

"Gunfire erupted at Amadi-Ama at around 3a.m. on Tuesday and lasted well into the afternoon," witnesses said. "I woke up to very heavy shots, bombs and things like that. It went on and on all day until maybe about four o’clock in the afternoon," Amadi-Ama resident, Annkil Briggs, a youth development worker said.

"I felt like I was under siege. I twice tried to leave home to get my children to school, but there was too much firing," she said. Earlier this month Asari said his 2,000-strong armed faction was fighting for the independence of the Ijaw ethnic group. Yesterday, he claimed that his men in Amadi-Ama had been attacked by a rival gang of black-magic devotees backed by police and soldiers.

"Ateke Tom’s people, the cult group, and the Nigerian military attacked Amadi-Ama. We lost 11 people. Some of them were armed, others were carrying ammunition. We have recovered all 11 bodies from the hospital," he said. Asari said his group — a separatist faction known to its fighters as the Egbesu Boys, had killed four members of the security forces and 38 cultists, but this could not be independently confirmed.

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