The Defence Headquarters has dismissed the report of alleged massacre by the military in Konshisha area of Benue, following the killing of 11 troops by bandits in the area.
The Acting Director, Defence Information, Brig.-Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, in a statement on Friday in Abuja, described the report as spurious and misleading.
Nwachukwu explained that there had been incessant cases of communal clashes in recent times among the people of Konshisha and Oju on boundary demarcation.
He said that as part of efforts to resolve the crisis, the Benue government held meetings with stakeholders in local governments with a view to providing solution to the problem.
According to him, appreciable progress has been made and a final date fixed for all stakeholders to meet in the disputed areas to demarcate the boundary.
“Trouble started on the eve of the final meeting during Easter holiday with reports that fresh fighting has broken out in the area.
“All along, 72 Special Forces Battalion has troops deployed on the Oju side of the boundary and troops of the battalion were on their way to replenish their colleagues on April 5, when they were attacked by bandits attending Bonta in Konshisha.
“The troops who were under command of a captain were seized at a checkpoint mounted by the so called Bonta Boys and taken into Konshisha forest where they were all brutally murdered.
“Not satisfied with killing the soldiers, the bandits proceeded to burn all the eleven soldiers and their officer beyond recognition while their weapons and ammunition were carted away,” he said.
The defence spokesperson disclosed that military reinforcements that were dispatched to Bonta the following morning also came under attack from close to 500 armed youths who had fully occupied Bonta at the time.
He said that the number of youths involved in the attacks suggested that the bandits could not be from Bonta alone, but were joined by bandits from other parts of Konshisha.
He said that the troops repelled the attack after more than four hours of intense fighting during which military helicopter provided close air support to ground troops.
According to him, 10 bandits are killed during the fight with the rifle of one of the killed in action soldiers recovered from the bandits who fell casualty during the exchange of fire.
He said that there were no other civilian casualties in any part of Konshisha till date, apart from the initial 10 bandits eliminated by the troops.
Nwachukwu however, challenged anybody from Konshisha to present to the public the bodies of innocent persons, male, female or children allegedly killed by troops in the area.
According to him, there was never a massacre as being touted by some mischief makers.
Nwachukwu also stated that bandits that escaped from Bonta withdrew into neighbouring villages where they kept on attacking troops as they continued with the search operation through Bonta into other parts of Konshisha.
According to him, knowing the implications of killing troops in cold blood, most of the villagers have fled their homes which are occupied by armed bandits who are firing at troops from the settlements as they advanced into Konshisha.
He said that troops repelled the attacks and destroyed the houses and other buildings which the criminals used as hideouts for the attacks.
“The use of abandoned settlements by armed bandits to attack troops is popular with insurgents.
“The aim is to draw military fire into the dwellings and then turn round to blame soldiers for the destruction.
“This is common guerilla tactics armed bandit designed to whip up public sentiment against security forces and this is what played out in Konshisha.
“This accounts for some of the burnt houses being reported in the press,” he said.
Nwachukwu further noted that some of the phones of the dead soldiers were also tracked to some of the settlements, saying that bandits should be blamed for the destruction since they used these settlements as hideout for attacks.
He said it would be wrong to blame soldiers who were in Konshisha on legitimate duties when some of them were killed.
He added that some of the buildings being paraded were actually burnt during earlier communal clashes between Konshisha and Oju.
The spokesperson said that the soldiers deployed to Konshisha displayed commendable restraints by adhering to the rules of engagement in the face of unprovoked attacks.
He said that military would ensure that the local leaders of Konshisha must bring the main actors responsible for the mayhem to security forces to face justice in addition to the return of all carted away weapons and all other weapons in their possession.
“The military will not tolerate the jungle justice attitude and dastardly acts leading to the gruesome murder of patriotic soldiers on legitimate duty to keep the peace.
“We look forward to working with the Benue government in its promise to support security forces in fishing out those fomenting trouble in Konshisha.
“Once again, there is no massacre in Konshisha and the stories making the rounds are fabricated by bandits and their sponsors to smear the military after killing troops,” he said.