US embassy cable - 01ABUJA2708

NIGERIA: REPORTS OF ARMY ATTACKS ON TIV IN BENUE

Identifier: 01ABUJA2708
Wikileaks: View 01ABUJA2708 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Abuja
Created: 2001-10-24 21:06:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN
Tags: PINS PREF PGOV PHUM NI
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 002708 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
NOFORN 
 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR DRL, AF/W AND AF/RA 
AF/W FOR PARKS, EPSTEIN 
DRL FOR TOMLYANOVICH 
 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/24/2006 
TAGS: PINS, PREF, PGOV, PHUM, NI 
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: REPORTS OF ARMY ATTACKS ON TIV IN BENUE 
 
 
Classified by Ambassador Howard F. Jeter, reasons 1.5 (b) and 
(d). 
 
 
 1. (U)  Summary: According to several sources, the Army is 
reported to have destroyed several villages in Eastern Benue 
and killed an undetermined number of people in an apparent 
reprisal for the murder of nineteen soldiers October 12. 
Troops apparently destroyed the house of former Chief of Army 
staff Victor Malu, killing several family members.  In 
apparent response to the military action, a demonstration by 
Tiv students at the University of Makurdi turned violent when 
the students attacked a police station in the city. 
Eyewitnesses report at least ten killed in that incident, 
which was eventually quelled by the police.  End Summary. 
 
 
2. (C)  A number of private and public sources are reporting 
these events.  We cannot now state that these reports are 
completely true.  However, that we are getting similar 
renditions from a variety of independent sources lends 
credibility to the general account of events.  A picture is 
emerging that indicates multiple military actions against 
civilians in Benue State, resulting in the destruction of 
several villages and the deaths of over 100 people. 
Eyewitnesses who fled the destruction, as well as Tiv 
leaders, have reported to BHC and Embassy officials that Army 
units entering Benue from Taraba state on Monday evening, 
began targeting ethnic Tiv villages.  The informal Tiv 
militia have been accused of the October 12 killings of Army 
soldiers in Benue.  Troops are reported to have killed 
residents of Gbeji, and Vaase, villages in the Ukum Local 
Government Area in eastern Benue, before razing them.  After 
destroying the village of Anyiin, troops went to  Zaki-Biam, 
where they levelled former Chief of Army Staff Victor Malu's 
residence, allegedly killing his grandmother and five other 
members of his household in the process.  A high ranking 
military officer denied that Army troops have killed anyone 
in Benue State, and said there were other security forces 
(SSS, informal militia) which may be responsible for any 
deaths (see DAO septel). 
 
 
3. (C)  Tivs have flooded into Makurdi from the affected 
areas, adding to nearly 60,000 co-ethnics who were previously 
displaced from their homes in neighboring Nasarawa and Taraba 
states.  In reaction to the killings, students at the 
predominantly Tiv University of Makurdi staged a 
demonstration which generated a riot when students attacked a 
police station, according to a BHC source with direct access. 
 The police responded with tear gas and fired weapons above 
the students' heads.  One Amcit eyewitness reported seeing at 
least 10 charred bodies after the demonstration was over.  It 
is not clear whether the bodies were police, students or 
both. 
---------- 
Background 
---------- 
4. (C)  The nineteen soldiers were reportedly kidnapped and 
killed by an armed band of Tiv youth, who dismembered and 
severely mutilated the soldiers' bodies.  The soldiers had 
been deployed to the border area to maintain order between 
feuding Tiv and Jukun ethnic groups.  Senator Daniel J. 
Saror, and Representative Gabriel Suswam, both Tivs who 
represent the area affected by the military action, met 
Ambassador Jeter October 24 to present their perspective and 
to request USG assistance in stopping the violence assisting 
what they claim may be over 500,000 internally displaced 
persons.  Both men claimed that the October 12 deaths were 
the result of a battle of Tiv militia against soldiers and 
Jukun militia wearing army uniforms who had burned a Tiv 
village.  The Tiv militia prevailed in the ensuing firefight, 
killing the soldiers and Jukun militia members.  It was 
widely reported in the press that the President and the Army 
had called upon Tiv leaders to "turn over" the perpetrators 
or face a possible military action. 
 
 
5. (C)  The capture and murder of these soldiers was the 
latest incident in a series of conflicts involving the Tiv 
and their ethnic neighbors in Nasarawa, Benue and Taraba 
states.  According to the Nigerian ethnic calculus of the 
indigene/settler, Tivs are regarded as interlopers by the 
"indigenous" ethnic groups in Nasarawa and Taraba, even 
though they migrated into central Nigeria many years ago and 
are the largest ethnic group in Benue State.  Disputes over 
land and access to state resources break out with some 
frequency; there is an historical record of Tiv/Jukun 
disputes that spans most of the 20th Century.   The current 
cycle began in southeastern Nasarawa state June 12 when an 
Azara chieftan was assassinated, purportedly by a group of 
local Tiv (Reftel).  The Azara are allies of the Jukun, at 
least when it comes to resisting Tiv "encroachment." 
Hundreds may have been killed in the ensuing conflict, which 
was eventually stopped by the military, with nearly 30,000 
Tiv migrating south to Benue State.  Later in July, the 
conflict spread to Taraba State, where members of the Jukun 
ethnic group allegedly attacked local Tiv, driving them into 
Benue state.  Twenty-five people were reported killed in that 
attack and 25,000 Tiv fled Taraba for camps on Benue and 
Nasarawa. 
 
 
6. (C)  Comment: Most disconcerting are the reports of the 
Army's lethal brutality.  If true, this will stain the Army 
and the Federal Government as severely as did the 1999 Odi 
massacre.  Tiv leaders allege that their people are de facto 
being expelled from Nasarawa and Taraba--what they call 
ethnic cleansing--even though Tiv have resided there for 
nearly two centuries.  We have no evidence of a conscious 
plot to expel the Tiv, and certainly have no evidence that 
the Nasarawa and Taraba state governments are involved. 
However, the two state governments have done little to halt 
this Tiv displacement.  Still, this conflict cannot be as one 
sided as the Tiv leadership represents.  The Tiv allege that 
the Army has sided with the Jukun, and that Minister of 
Defense Danjuma (ethnically a Tiv but raised as a Jukun) has 
provided the Jukun militia with arms.  The Jukun allege that 
General Malu is doing the same for the Tiv.  We cannot 
confirm these assertions. 
 
 
7. (C)  Comment cntd.: That General Malu (an ethnic Tiv) may 
have been targeted by his former troops adds another twist to 
this tragedy.  General Malu, the author of the Odi massacre, 
may not be expected to take this passively, and violence in 
Benue, as well as a looming humanitarian disaster, is likely 
to continue.  End Comment. 
Jeter 

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