- Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua has defended the military operation in the oil rich Niger Delta saying it would not discourage world leaders from visiting Nigeria.
President Yar'Adua, who reacted to claims that foreign leaders were shunning Nigeria because of insecurity in the country, said the Delta crisis is not a cause for concern in the West African state.
Mr Yar'Adua who spoke when he received his Togolese counterpart, Faure Gnassingbe, in Abuja, said he was not aware that foreign leaders were scared of coming to Nigeria because of the crisis in the Niger Delta.
“The situation in the Niger Delta region has been there remotely for decades and the escalation of violence and criminality that has taken root has been there for between eight and nine years,” he said.
The concerns were informed by reports that United States President, Barack Obama, who would be on his first trip to Africa would be visiting Ghana and not Nigeria next month.
Togolese leader advised that criminal acts should be separated from genuine agitations for development saying President Yar’Adua had commenced moves to bring a political solution to the Niger Delta problems.
“I think everybody recognises that President Yar’Adua has started many political processes to solve the problems in the Niger Delta. But we have to make a clear separation between economic and political agitation and criminality,” he told local reporters.
Meanwhile, the Joint Task Force (JTF), code-named Operation Restore Hope, yesterday intensified its attacks on perceived militants' camps in the Delta State, uprooting hundreds more from the region.
The JTF urged Nigerians and the international community to exercise patience and show understanding on the matter. The latest offensive was fierce in Ijaw communities in Warri South-West Local Council of Delta State.
Local reports said the death toll from the first three days of the attack have risen to above 60, the majority of whom are said to be civilians, though the government has not officially confirmed. However, the Army has denied any civilians deaths in the region.
MEND spokesperson, Jomo Gbomo, accused the Army of spreading falsehood by alleging that no civilians were killed and communities destroyed in the current attack.
Mr Gbomo said the JTF officials were contradicting each other on the events leading to the indiscriminate bombardment, wanton destruction of property and killing of defenseless women, children and the elderly.
MEND claims to be fighting for a greater share of Nigeria's oil wealth for local people.
The rebellion and violence in the delta has cut Nigeria's oil output by about a fifth since early 2006. A number of armed groups operate across the region, launching attacks on oil installations and pipelines, as well as abducting oil workers and local officials.
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