The Nigerian army has vehemently denied accusations that it went on a killing spree and fired indiscriminately on unarmed civilians in retaliation for the deaths of six soldiers.
The incident, during which at least 28 suspected militants were killed, took place during the weekend in the districts of Wase and Langtang in central Nigeria. According to army spokesman Captain Ikedichi Iweha, the operation was intended to rid the area of gunmen who had been terrorizing villagers for some time. He said it was not true that "any community was attacked by the special task force. We are only engaging illegal groups […] and this is in line with the mandate we have to maintain security."
A traditional ruler had claimed that as many as 80 civilians were killed by soldiers. Residents said most of them were women and children.
Captain Iweha said the army would continue to search the area until the weapons of six soldiers believed to have been killed "in a most horrible way" by militants late last month were recovered.
The search is taking place in the border area between Taraba and Plateau states about 350 kilometers (217 miles) from the capital Abuja. However Plateau state's government spokesman Pam Ayuba has been quoted as saying that locals on his side of the border were angry that their community was targeted in the operation, as the purported militants were clearly based in Taraba.
Call for increased surveillance
Security expert Bello Lukman told DW how the security situation on the border between the two states can be improved.
"I think the best solution is, let's digitize our security. Let's have, for example, CCTV cameras around every corner in this country. If we have that, we are going to be able to place a picture of everybody that perpetrates crime. We don't go about killing innocent people in the name of fighting terrorists. We don't go about just thinking anybody in an area is a suspect," Lukman said.
There was no immediate indication as to the identity of the suspected militants held responsible for the killing of the six soldiers or whether they are linked to Boko Haram. Violence in rural areas is often blamed on long-standing sectarian grievances fuelled partly by battles over land rights.
Plateau state lies in Nigeria's so-called Middle Belt, where the mainly Christian south meets the majority Muslim north. Christian-dominated farming communities have on several occasions clashed with the largely Muslim herdsmen of the Fulani ethic group since the turn of the century, leaving hundreds of people dead.