Nigerian soldiers are reported to have killed scores of villagers in central Nigeria in apparent retribution for the slaughter of 19 soldiers, trapped in conflict between ethnic Tiv and Jukun peoples almost two weeks ago. Officials in Benue state say the alleged massacres may still be going on, but the Nigerian army has denied the allegations.
Benue government spokesman Gahav Agerzua says the alleged killing of villagers began late Monday in a remote area inhabited by ethnic Tivs near the border with neighboring Taraba state. He says uniformed soldiers attacked and destroyed several villages in the region.
"On Monday, they attacked four major settlements, two of which are local government headquarters. They sacked Anyiin, Gbeji, Vaase, in addition to these places," he said. "They sacked completely Iorja, which is the headquarters of Logo local government area, and they destroyed Sankara, which is the headquarters of Lukum local government area."
The Benue state spokesman says that the soldiers attacked and leveled the house of a former Nigerian army chief of staff, killing one of his brothers. Nigerian military officials have denied the allegations.
Mr. Agerzua says the death toll among civilians in Nigeria's Benue state is heavy.
"At least 200 people, because in one reported incident, we have that the soldiers invited the villagers to what they called a 'peace meeting.' When the villagers stand up, they ask the women and the children to leave, after which they shot everybody who attended the meeting," he said. "That is in Vaase."
Mr. Agerzua says the Nigerian soldiers were apparently seeking revenge for the death of 19 members of the Nigerian armed forces, who were killed October 11-12 after being sent to the region to quell ethnic unrest.
Reports say the Nigerian soldiers had fallen into the hands of militiamen who abducted and disarmed them before hacking them to death.
Meanwhile, Mr. Agerzua says the governor of Benue state spoke to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo early Wednesday to tell the president he is trying to end the reported killings.
"They have called a meeting of the State Security and Executive Council to discuss the issue and is also calling on all Benue sons and daughters to come, because it is apparent that this is becoming a matter of genocide," he says.
The reported killings are the latest bout of violence in the ethnically diverse African country. Ethnic and religious fighting claimed hundreds of lives earlier this year in several states of central and northern Nigeria.