Officials in central Nigeria's Benue State say soldiers have killed at least 130 villagers in apparent retribution for the killing of soldiers who were caught up in ethnic clashes two weeks ago. The Nigerian president has kept a low profile since news of the latest killings broke early Wednesday.
Benue state officials say the violence began late Monday, hours after the soldiers killed earlier this month were buried, with full military honors, in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
Witnesses say members of the armed forces rounded up ethnic Tivs living in at least four villages near Benue's border with Taraba state, and shot them. They say the assailants completely destroyed the villages, leaving bodies lying in the streets.
The attackers were apparently seeking revenge for the death of 19 soldiers, who were killed October 11 and 12, after federal troops were sent to Benue to end clashes between ethnic Tivs and Juku peoples. Reports say Tiv militiamen abducted the soldiers, before hacking them to death.
Benue Governor George Akume has asked Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was once the country's military dictator, to do what he can to help end the latest killings. According to Becky Orpin, the governor's spokeswoman, Mr. Obasanjo spoke with the governor.
"The president is of the opinion, and, as a matter of urgency, has directed that the troops that are now attacking the Tiv-speaking parts of Benue State be withdrawn immediately," said Ms. Orpin.
However, she added the president has not officially called for an end to military operations in Benue State.
A spokesman for President Obasanjo, Tunji Hosseini, declined to comment on the situation. He told VOA it is up to the army to issue an official reaction, since reports say it was soldiers who allegedly carried out the killings.
The Nigerian army has denied its troops had anything to do with the reported killings. In a statement issued Thursday, Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Alex Ogomudia said allegations of military involvement were the result of what he called "misinformation."