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200 Nigerian villagers killed

Oct. 24, 2001 at 8:28 AM

ABUJA, Nigeria, Oct. 24 (UPI) -- More than 200 people were reported killed by troops in apparent retaliation for the deaths of 19 soldiers, who had been sent to central Nigeria to halt tribal violence.

Witnesses said that a truck carrying men in soldiers' uniforms arrived in Gbeji Monday afternoon and immediately opened fire. Additional shootings were reported in the nearby villages of Vaase, Anyin and Zaki-Bian.

The area was the site where the bodies of 19 soldiers were found Oct. 12 after being sent to the Tarabu-Benue border. The men had been hacked to death and the government blamed militant Tivs youths for the slayings. On Monday, about the time of the reported village shootings, Nigerian officials attended services in which the 19 soldiers were given a state funeral attended by President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Daniel Gbeji, a farmer in the village of Gbeji, said in a telephone interview from the state capital, Makurdi, where many refugees headed after the shootings, that on Monday, soldiers rounded up the men in the village square.

"Then they started shooting and they killed more than 100 people," Gbeji said.

A reporter for Radio Benue reported seeing more than 100 bodies on the ground in Zaki-Bian where "the whole market was razed."

Nigerian army spokesman Col. Felix Chukwuma on Wednesday denied that soldiers had killed the villagers.

The villages are located in Benue state, southeast of Abuja.

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