332 views | Kenechukwu Ofomah | April 10, 2021
Awka – The Defence Headquarters has described as false, numerous publications in the media and other online blogs, reporting massive killing and destruction of houses and other property by the military in Konshisha LGA of Benue State.
The Defence Headquarters which has oversight responsibility for Operation WHIRL STROKE, revealed that it only deployed to maintain peace in Benue.
There have been incessant cases of communal clashes in recent times between the people of Konshisha and Oju over boundary demarcation, but during Easter holiday, fresh fighting broke out in the area.
Last week, it was gathered that 72 Special Forces Battalion deployed on the Oju side of the boundary and troops of the Battalion were on their way to replenish their colleagues on 5 April 2021, when they were attacked by armed bandits at 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 the 11 soldiers were all brutally murdered and burned beyond recognition while their weapons and ammunition were carted away.
Early Friday morning, pictures and videos surfaced online showing military equipment, especially helicopters, bombing houses and also reported destruction of lives, up to about 200.
But in a statement on Friday, the Acting Director, Defence Information, Onyema Nwachukwu, revealed that military reinforcements were dispatched to Bonta but unfortunately, also came under attack from close to 500 armed youths who by this time, had fully occupied Bonta.
“The sheer number of youths involved in the attacks suggess that the armed bandits cannot be from Bonta alone, but were joined by bandits from other parts of Konshisha LGA.
“The military repelled the attack after more than 4 hours of intense fighting during which military helicopter provided close air support to ground troops.
“Ten armed bandits were 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,” the Defence Headquarters said.
It maintained that apart from the initial 10 bandits, there are no other civilian casualties recorded in any part of Konshisha till date.
“We therefore challenge anybody from Konshisha to present to the public, the 200, 70 or 30 dead bodies of innocent persons, male, female or children killed by troops in Konshisha. There was never a massacre as being touted by some mischief makers,” it said.
The Defence spokesperson further revealed that the remnants of the armed 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.
He said kowing the implications of killing troops in cold blood, most of the villagers fled their homes which were then occupied by armed bandits who kept firing at troops from the settlements as they advanced into Konshisha.
Nwachukwu continued; “Troops repelled the attacks and destroyed the houses and other buildings which the criminals used as hideout 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. Some of the phones of the dead soldiers were also tracked to some of the settlements. We should therefore blame the armed bandits for the destruction since they used these settlements as hideout for attacks.”
The Defence Headquarters maintained that soldiers deployed to Konshisha displayed commendable restraints by adhering to the rules of engagement in the face of unprovoked attacks and therefore deserve accolades.
It warned that in addition to the return of all carted away weapons, the local leaders of Konshisha must bring the main actors responsible for the mayhem to security forces to face justice.
“They must also surrender 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 State Government in its promise to support security forces in fishing out those fomenting trouble in Konshisha,” it concluded.