The Bush administration Friday confirmed a suspension of U.S. military aid to Nigeria, but it is denying Nigerian charges that it is retaliation for that country's opposition to the U.S.-led war on Iraq.
The State Department said the aid cut-off was mandated by Congress because of human rights concerns about Nigeria's military, and that its timing at the start of the war against Iraq is purely coincidental.
The comments here follow a statement Friday by a Nigerian foreign ministry official that the U.S. move was an act of "sheer intimidation" because of Nigeria's position against the war, and his government would not be "dictated to" by any other country.
Briefing reporters, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the sanction stems from the Nigerian military's reported role in a massacre of hundreds of civilians in central Benue state in October, 2001 and is unrelated to the country's position on Iraq.
"It's a matter of U.S. law. It's a matter of long-standing U.S. policy. It's not something that developed because of somebody's attitude towards Iraq. It's something that has existed as a problem for a long time because of a serious situation that occurred there," Mr. Boucher said.
The U.S. military aid to Nigeria is relatively small, amounting to less than seven million dollars over the past year, and is aimed mainly at helping train Nigerian forces for African peace-keeping duties.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has issued several statements warning that an Iraq war could de-stabilize the Middle East and undermine world peace.
Last week, he joined his South African and Senegalese counterparts in a joint letter to President Bush expressing similar concerns.