Abuja, Dec 4 (PTI) A sustained fighting between rebels and the Nigerian army in the nation”s oil-rich delta has led to the evacuation of dozens of civilians, a Red Cross worker said today but activists claimed that up to 150 people have been killed so far.
The army, however, denied reports that scores of civilians were killed. A Red Cross relief worker said more than 30 have been evacuated from the scenes of the intense fighting while six wounded are getting medical attention in hospitals belonging to the military.
“Those evacuated to neighbouring military barracks are mostly women and children and many villagers have escaped to neighbouring urban centres or villages,” the Red Cross worker told PTI.
The Joint Task Force (JTF) sent by the government of the oil-rich African country to secure the delta region from rebels claiming to be fighting for resource control had warned civilians living near militant camps to relocate before embarking on the operation which aims at stopping militancy in the region.
“Civilians are not the target of this operation and none has been killed. The villagers fled due to fright when soldiers advanced towards their community and they would soon be brought back with a bus,” spokesman for the JTF Colonel Timothy Atigha told PTI.
He said their aim is to flush out criminal gangs operating in the region. An earlier statement by Atigha said houses located close to the gangs” camps were caught up in the raid but the fleeing civilians were helped by the military to escape.
The major person being targeted is on John Togo and his group who agreed to the amnesty offered by the government to the insurgents but later reneged by taking up arms again.
Images aired on state-owned Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) had shown soldiers on boats travelling round the area and burning down a house just as some people who appeared to be militants were seen captured by them.
But the military spokesman said some fleeing gangsters took over adjourning buildings and fired at soldiers which compelled them to fire back causing damages to the houses. .