Jos - Nigeria's military is battling a dangerous tribal
militia that could grow into a terrorist group in central Nigeria and denies
accusations its troops have killed dozens of civilians, a defence ministry
spokesperson said on Monday.
Major General Chris Olukolade said 32 suspected militants
were killed and soldiers sustained various injuries when a militia opened fire
on troops during weekend raids by the Special Task Force in central Plateau
Another 10 suspects were arrested, he said in a statement.
Traditional ruler Chief Jessie Miri told reporters on Sunday
that as many as 80 civilians were killed by soldiers. Residents said most
victims were women and children.
Residents suggested the attacks were to avenge the killings
and mutilations of six soldiers last week. The soldiers' eyes were gouged out,
their tongues slit and they were beheaded, according to residents who spoke on
condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals. Four soldiers still are
missing, they said.
Olukolade said the reports were "totally false"
and part of a "smear campaign" against Nigeria's military.
"It was a well-intended operation aimed at apprehending
the ring leaders and foot soldiers of an incubating terrorist group," he
"The operation, however, went awry when the audacious
and dangerous group opened fire on troops."
He warned that "never again shall the Nigerian military
allow any militant groups to rise again to constitute themselves into grave
danger to innocent citizens of the country" — an apparent reference to the
fight to curb a nearly 6-year-old Islamic uprising in the northeast.