The Nigerian military, on Tuesday, defended its decision to deploy more troops and arms to the Niger Delta after the government said it was ready for talks with militants in the area.
Several militant groups, notably Niger Delta Avengers, have attacked oil and gas installations in the region in recent months, cutting production.
The military began Operation Crocodile Smile there in August, saying it would make troops combat-ready.
The Avengers group said it was prepared for talks, as proposed by the government.
But despite the offers from both sides, the army and the air force have sent more troops and arms to the region in recent weeks.
The military said in a statement Tuesday that while the armed forces respected the peace efforts, “criminals and economic saboteurs” could not be tolerated.
It also said the deployments were aimed at demonstrating the military’s capacity to protect civilians.
“The ongoing exercise is geared towards enhancing civil-military relationship and building the confidence of the resident on the ability of the military to protect them,” the statement signed by defense spokesperson, Rabe Abubakar.
“The exercise also demonstrates the strength of the troops to purge the region of criminals and economic saboteurs. The Armed Forces would not tolerate any form of criminality in that region,” it added.
Mr. Abubakar warned militant groups against forcing residents to abandon their homes.
The warning came in response to the demand by a group named, Niger Delta Green land Justice Mandate, residents vacate their homes to avoid attacks.
“It is more worrisome that despite the Federal Government’s olive branch to broker peace and proffer solution to the lingering Niger Delta problem, some groups are still fanning the ember of war,” he said. “The military and other security agencies would remain focused, un-intimidated and will display professionalism in ensuring adequate security to lives and property.”