ARMY, MILITANTS IN FRESH WAR
A bloody gun duel erupted in the creeks, Wednesday, between regrouped militants and soldiers drawn from the Joint Task Force, JTF, with both sides allegedly suffering casualties suspected to be up to 15.
The battle started at about 2.00 p.m. with some of the JTF gunboats also damaged.
At press time, the JTF had ordered reinforcement and more soldiers drafted to the battle zone, while villagers in a neighbouring Urhobo community to the militant camp were fleeing in droves.
Vanguard learnt that in line with the order of the Ministry of Defence to wipe out new militant camps in the Niger Delta, the JTF deployed soldiers with 12 gunboats.
It was meant to be a surprise attack but the militants who announced the formation of NDLF on Tuesday fought back when the soldiers opened fire.
A source said the militant group fought to retain the new camp.
Their leader, “General” Togo who led his men in the onslaught escaped unhurt.
Details not clear
Details of the gun battle were still not clear, last night. All a senior JTF operative told Vanguard when contacted was: “It was a serious battle, we have casualties on our side, many of our men were injured but we don’t have information yet.”
Sector Commander, JTF, Warri, Col. Jamil Sarhim, was said to have given fresh directive after being briefed by his officers that the militant camp must be destroyed. Efforts by Vanguard to speak to him failed as his mobile phone rang out.
Spokesman for the JTF, Lt.-Col. T. O. Antigha told Vanguard at about 6.40 p.m that he had not got the details of the attack.
Spokesman for the NDLF, “Captain” Mark Anthony, told Vanguard that the soldiers attacked the militant camp unexpectedly yesterday and the few fighters in camp rose up to the occasion and repelled them.
“So many soldiers were killed and others injured. Our intention for setting up a new militant camp was to draw Federal Government’s attention to the fact that some of us who accepted amnesty before were abandoned and that they should dialogue with us, but the JTF came for war.
“Now that they have attacked us, they should be prepared for the real war, we are ready for them. We are not against the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, all we are saying is that they should call a conference of all ex-militants to know how the amnesty programme is going and take necessary steps to correct the deficiencies,” he said.
Claims 3 militants were killed
He claimed about three militants were allegedly killed and the major casualties were on the part of the soldiers.
A villager told Vanguard the army allegedly went in about 14 gunboats to attack the militant camp but were trapped after four hours of gun battle and had to send for reinforcement.
At about 6 pm, Vanguard was reliably informed that soldiers were towing back the damaged gunboat to their base.
Nevertheless, it was gathered that Colonel Sarhim insisted that the camp must be destroyed.
FG deploys more troops
In a related development, more troops were yesterday deployed to the mangrove creeks of Bayelsa State by the Joint Task Force as part of moves to stem the resurgence of militancy in the region.
The noticeable large movement of soldiers to the Yenagoa jetty for onward journey to the creeks is also expected to boost the dwindling confidence of travellers on the troubled waterways due to the recent resurgence of piracy and criminality on the routes.
It would be recalled that some unfortunate commuters on the waterways in the last couple of months have lost their lives while others were raped, maimed and dispossessed of their valuables by pirates operating in the labyrinth of creeks.
The movement of the troops to the creeks, a security source told Vanguard, was to sustain the ongoing efforts by the Federal Government to rid the Niger Delta of criminal elements masquerading as militants.
He said with the granting of amnesty to all illegal arms bearing groups in the region by the Federal Government which also promised to address the problem of development in the Niger Delta, government would not fold its arms and some criminals plunge the region into another orgy of violence.
The source who said the security outfit had the responsibility to nip in the bud all threats of militancy and restore investors’ confidence in the Niger Delta, citing last week’s sacking of a militant camp at Forupa in which incriminating materials and documents were recovered by men of the Joint Task Force.
JTF confirms military operation
However, Coordinator of the Joint Media Campaign Centre of the security outfit, Lt Col Timothy Antigha, had in a statement, Tuesday, confirmed the military operation in the Niger Delta to stem the resurgence of militancy in the region, even as he allayed the fears of the natives.
His words: “You will recall that in the last few weeks, criminal gangs masquerading as militants have been engaging in all atrocities, like kidnapping, sea robbery and illegal boarding of oil production platforms.
“The JTF is currently in an operation to rid the Niger Delta of these criminal elements, in order for the region to experience the needed peace and security which are imperatives for sustainable development.
“All law-abiding indigenes of communities hosting these criminals are advised to remain calm and promptly report suspicious characters to relevant military authorities
The Commander of the JTF, Maj. Gen Charles Omoregie, had last week warned all illegal arms-bearing groups masquerading as militants or emerging militants to retrace their steps or have themselves to blame.
“It must be stressed that lack of development can no longer be given as an excuse for irresponsible behaviour, criminal and treasonable activities in this region, because development and other forms of engagements with Niger Delta interest groups are ongoing and require peace for their sustainability,” he declared.