Nigerian soldiers
Nigerian soldiers

A spokesman for Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan told VOA the president is committed to the amnesty program for militants in the Niger Delta.

This comes as the Nigerian military acknowledged Sunday that civilians may have been killed during the recent military operation against militants in the oil-rich southern region.

Ima Niboro, spokesman for President Jonathan said the current military operations are against criminal elements.

?I think that there are certain groups that are operating in the Niger Delta that are operating outside the law, and I think the security services want to assure that they do not impact activities in the Niger Delta,? he said.

The Niger Delta militants have said they are fighting for a fair distribution of the region?s oil revenue.

Militants wearing black masks, military fatigues a
Militants wearing black masks, military fatigues and carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers patrol the creeks of the Niger Delta area of Nigeria, 24 Feb 2006

Niboro said the Federal Government is committed to the resolution of the crisis, including implementation of the amnesty program, so as not to create a new generation of militants.

?What is going on in the Niger Delta is that we have an amnesty program that is on, and all the repenting militants are on the amnesty program. Right now, we have ensured that all the key players in the Niger Delta are on board this amnesty program. The government is committed to the amnesty program,? Niboro said.

He said the amnesty program is currently at the rehabilitation stage for ex-militants.

The military said Sunday it launched the recent offensive in the Delta state to root out a criminal gang led by John Togo.

Residents of the village of Ayakoromo reportedly said the soldiers attacked civilians and burned many of their houses.

A spokesman for the military's Joint Task Force, Timothy Antigha, said it is possible a few villagers were caught in the crossfire between troops and militants during Wednesday's operation.

Niboro said he had no independent confirmation about civilian casualties, but he said President Jonathan is concerned about the loss of life.

?Naturally, the president of any country is concerned about anything that affects the citizens of that country.  I do not have independent confirmation of what is going on in terms of civilian casualties, but the President has always maintained that civilian populations must be protected, must be shielded from military activity, and criminal activities must be excised in a surgical manner that does not impact the civilian population,? Niboro said.