Nigeria's military said it freed four more foreign hostages Sunday from Niger Delta militants during an operation against camps of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.
Human Rights groups say the weekend operation, the military's biggest
show of force in months has displaced thousands of villagers.
The militants reportedly said they took revenge by destroying two oil and gas pipelines in the Niger Delta.
Colonel Rabe Abubakar, spokesman for the Nigerian military's Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta, told VOA the Nigerian military will not sit idly by while militants continue to attack oil installations and innocent civilians.
"The Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta for the past few days has embarked on a search and rescue operation. The purpose of that operation is to push out the criminals who attacked us on Wednesday and Friday. Right now the operation is ongoing," he said.
Col. Abubakar said the military was able to free a total of 17 Nigerian and foreign hostages during the operation.
"In the course of that operation, we were able to rescue nine Filipinos and four Nigerians, and today four Ukrainians. So all together, we rescued 13 expatriates and then four Nigerians, and these four expatriates they are all Ukrainians and they all in good condition. And as I'm speaking to you, they all in Warri (Delta State's capital)," Abubakar said.
Abubakar described as propaganda militants' claim that they destroying two oil and gas pipelines in the Niger Delta as a revenge for the military's attacks on their positions.
"As you know we are not in any way at war with these our people. They are our brothers and sisters. The simplest thing we are doing is to rid the region of criminals and criminalities. The other side which they are claiming to have blown up a pipeline, it could be one of their own propaganda," Abubakar said.
He said the militants are becoming irrelevant because the communities in the region have come to realize that the militants do not have their interest at hear.
"They are no longer relevant. People now know the kind of people they are. That's why they have gone out calling JTF (Joint Task Force) all sorts of names that we are killing innocent children and women which is not true; that they are burning or blowing up pipelines. All these things are propaganda by them," he said.
Col. Abubakar played down concerns by some human rights groups that the military's use of helicopters and gunboats has displaced thousands.
He said the military is following its mandate which is to protect the citizens and create an enabling environment.
"You see whatever we have done is for the interest of our country. No responsible military will go against its own people. So what we are doing is to free the region from a lot of criminals who have putting a lot of mayhem on their own people they are claiming to have been protecting. So all this thing we are doing is within our mandate because one requirement of our mandate is to create an enabling environment for economic activity to thrive. So we are not doing anything that is outside our mandate," he said.
Abubakar said if the Nigerian military can perform well against Sierra Leone and Liberian rebels during those countries' civil wars, he saw no reason why the military could not flush out the Niger Delta militants.