Search for militants: Women, children trapped in Delta forest

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Following the military siege to Ijaw communities in Delta and Bayelsa states over the killing of a soldier, last weekend, the leadership of Bilabiri community in Ekeremor Local Government Area of Bayelsa State has said that the suspected militants were not from the community. Similarly, Peoples Development Initiative, IPDI, a rights group, yesterday, appealed to the Nigerian Army to lift the siege to the waterways of Letugbene, Bilibiri, Amatu and other riverine communities in Bayelsa and Delta states, saying that many women and children were still trapped in the forest and denied access to food, five days after soldiers barricaded the waterways in search of suspected militants that killed a soldier, last Thursday.

Chairman of Bilabiri Community Development Committee, CDC, Mr Ebimobowei Deboh, in a statement in Yenagoa,  while reacting to insinuation in some quarters that some of the perpetrators are from the community, said that the community has no militant camp as they do not harbour criminals and militants. Deboh, who called on the security agencies to carry out their investigations properly with a view to fishing out the perpetrators where ever they maybe, however, appealed to the military authorities to resist the temptation to invade the community under the guise of searching for the militants.

He said: “It has come to the notice of Bilabiri community that some of persons said to be from the community are been fingered in connection to the killing of a soldier at Ogbeibagbene military base, we want to state categorically that those mentioned are not from Bilabiri community.” Also, IPDI, in a statement by the national president, Austin Ozobo, said it was not opposed to   the manhunt for the suspected militants, who not only killed a soldier at a military formation in Ogbogbagbene, Burutu LGA,  but also stole a General Purpose Machine Gun, GPMG, belonging to the Nigerian Army. It, however, said it was disturbed that innocent residents, who know nothing about the attack and killing by the suspected militants were being punished by the soldiers.

Insisting that the hoodlums should return the GPMG, IPDI said,  “It is unfortunate that for five days now,  movement on the waterways has been closed down, the indigenes of the raided communities,  including women and children, are trapped in the mangrove swamps and do not have access to food and other basic amenities. “We learned that several persons, including women, were arrested.

While we do not intend to usurp the operations of the military, they should avoid arresting innocent people in the guise of investigation. Those arrested, if they are innocent, should be released without further delay.” The Ijaw group pleaded with the military “To be fair in its operations and stop further raids and close down of waterways in its bid to unravel the killers of the military officer.” It also urged military authorities to lift the restriction of movement on the waterways, saying, “It amounts to an attempt to cage and punish a large number of innocent Ijaws, who  use the waterways as their only entrance and exit points and source of livelihood.”

“We want Bayelsa and Delta State governments to rise to its responsibilities by intervening for the safety of the affected communities.  Our information is that upon the invasion of the military formation at Ogbogbogbane, killing of a soldier and stealing of GPMG, the military began raid in large numbers of Ijaw and Bayelsa communities, especially, Letugbene, Bilbiri, Amatu, Ndoro, Tuomo, Bomadi and other Bayelsa and Delta communities. “We have heard of several abuses of human rights, restriction of movement, harassment, intimidation and destruction of properties of locals of these communities by the military.

We are not against investigation and arrest of the perpetrators, but would always object to intimidation, harassment and causing bodily injury and loss to innocent persons in the search for the invaders. “We frown at such invasion and raid of peace-loving Ijaw communities because such have led to deaths, injury and loss of properties worth millions of naira, among residents of Ijaw communities in Niger Delta in time past. “For the avoidance of doubt, the law never permits such transfer of aggression, despite the level of provocation. You cannot punish somebody else for the sin committed any another person, therefore, Ijaw Ijaw communities should not be punished because of the sins of few criminals, who do not even reside in such towns and villages.

“It  is obvious that such raids only happens in Ijaw territories, if not,  how many urban cities where such ugly incidents usually occur have been invaded over time.”

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