THE Joint Task Force, (JTF) deployed to the Niger Delta said on Friday that it would operate within rules of engagement in the search for militants in Ondo State.
Its Commander, Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman, told a news conference in Yenagoa that the task force, code named “Operation Delta Safe” was determined to apprehend fleeing militants and clearing of their hideouts.
He also said that such hideouts were used to keep kidnapped victims
Suleiman said that troops did not sack Ajapa community in Ee-Odo Local Government Area of Ondo during the operation that killed militant leader, Ossy Ibori.
He said that the operation was not targeted at innocent residents of the area.
“What we are actually doing there is clearance operation; and it’s all about the shrines, the hide-outs and the militant camps that were used as safe havens by the militant groups that are being destroyed.
“We identify them; we don’t just go and burn. These are identified using our intelligence that these were where the militants were using before the raid,” he said.
According to Apochi, troops involved in the operation did not burn houses of residents and such incident never occurred.
“Those who are actually coming out to say this are part of the premeditated defence by the late militant leader’s followers, who are enjoying the proceeds of this criminality.
“They think that the only way they can douse the tempo of our operation is to go to the public to whip up sentiments that we are disturbing and sacking innocent people.
“That is not the situation. The situation is that we identify the camps, the shrines and all the areas that were used as safe havens by the criminals and it is believed that these were proceeds of acts of criminality,” he said.
The Commander, however, warned that the task force would not hesitate to deal with any person or group found to be providing cover for the militants.
“If you are collaborating, you are sponsoring, you are protecting or housing any criminal, you have lost the immunity and we will go after you and all such groups,” Apochi said.
He explained that while the leader of the militants was killed, some of his followers were arrested and a cache of ammunition recovered in the ongoing operation.
He further said that some soldiers were killed in the operation, but declined to mention the actual number.
“We lost quite a number of them, some are in hospital, these were innocent soldiers, they have made the supreme sacrifice for this nation and they were murdered cold blooded.
“I would like to use this opportunity to condole the families of our fallen heroes, who paid the supreme sacrifice in the course of maintaining peace and security in this operation.
“They were dedicated, gallant, laden with vigour and determination to protect their fatherland. I assure you that their sacrifice will never be in vain,” the commander said.