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Renewed Clashes Leave Eight Dead in Nigeria

Reports from Nigeria say at least eight people may have been killed in renewed clashes between an outlawed group and members of the joint police and military in Onitsha, a leading commercial city in southern Nigeria.

The latest fighting reportedly followed rumors that security forces planned to bomb Okpoko, a crowded suburb of Onitsha. The area is said to be a stronghold of the separatist group, Movement for the Actualization of Biafra (MASSOB).

The government recently banned the group as well as the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners following clashes in Onitsha, involving the two groups.

Government security forces deployed in Onitsha in the wake of the violence have been ordered to flush out all armed groups from Onitsha, with MASSOB as their principal target.

John Ameh, a resident of Onitsha, told VOA what happened.

"The youths, that is MASSOB members, they claimed they were working on a rumor that the police and military team deployed in Onitsha; the team was going to bomb that area today. You know, that it is a MASSOB enclave; most of them are hiding in the residential area there," he said. "So when they moved to the street yesterday and saw members of the team in the area, they felt this was a ploy to carry out the alleged bombing and they started throwing weapons and all sorts of things at them and so that was what started the clash."

Residents say at least eight people were killed in the fighting, but the police have denied the killings and the alleged bombing plan.

Ameh says while the Onitsha city center is now relatively peaceful and safe clashes continue around the city.

"Central Onitsha is okay, is calm," he added. "Of course the place is quite large and Upper Eweka, that is on the route to the Niger bridge, the Niger bridge is a major access from the southwest through Onitsha, which is the gateway to the south-south and other southeastern states up to the north. Which is why they [insurgents] normally try to get to the area and create problems there. So the theater of war has been the Upper Eweka, Niger bridge route and Enugu/Onitsha expressway, because of the strategic nature of these routes and the bridge."

MASSOB seeks independence for the 40 million strong Igbo community, Nigeria's third-largest ethnic group. The separatist group claims Igbos have been neglected and marginalized by the rest of Nigeria, because of a brutal civil war that the region fought with federal forces between 1967 and 1970.

More than one million people died during the conflict.