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Nigerian military given mandate to quash militancy in oil region

December 6 - The Nigerian government has given its security forces a mandate to wipe out rebel camps and end militancy in the main oil-producing region within the next month, the head of the special military unit in the Niger Delta said December 6.

The military the week ended December 3 began massive raids in southern Delta state targeting camps believed to be run by militant leader John Togo which left scores of villagers displaced and a number of casualties.

"The current operation is to take up camps, mop up arms and eliminate militancy in the Niger Delta. That is the target given to me by the federal government," the head of the Joint Task Force, Major General Charles Omoregie, said on a program aired by Nigerian television.

"We want to achieve this within the next one month," Omoregie said, adding that since the capture last month of a militant commander known as Obese and 60 of his followers in Rivers state, calm had returned to the country's oil capital Port Harcourt.

Omoregie said the military's next target is to capture John Togo, who he said was a criminal responsible for the spate of kidnappings, piracy and attacks on oil pipelines in the area.

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"We are closing in on him, in fact yesterday members of his community showed us his house although he had escaped before we got there," he added.

He said the remnants of oil rebels still in the creeks and swamps of the region have a last chance to give up their arms and embrace the government's rehabilitation programs, failing which they would be treated as criminals when captured.

Government security forces on Friday engaged fighters loyal to militant leader John Togo where he was hiding in Ayakoramo village in Delta state.

Local media reported that scores of civilians were killed during the raids, but JTF spokesman Col. Timothy Antigha told Platts on December 6 that only 10 people died and that most of them were suspected militants.

"We do not think more than 10 people died during that operation, and majority of them were those who attack the soldiers when they came into the village," Antigha said.

"The village in question is a friendly community, so we could not have carried out such level killings as being peddled about," he added.

The military November 19 raided militant camps in Rivers states, freeing 19 hostages including seven foreigners kidnapped from an Afren oil rig and eight Nigerians seized from an ExxonMobil platform.

There has been a resurgence of violence in Nigeria's southern oil patch after a lull brought about by an amnesty program last year, which saw oil output rebound from around 1 million b/d to 2.2 million b/d.

The country's main militant group the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta or MEND, said it would launch new attacks despite the military crackdown.

MEND, which says it is fighting for a fairer distribution of oil revenue, has claimed responsibility for the most of the kidnapping of oil workers and sabotage of oil installations.

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