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The military Joint Task Force (JTF) has denied that it had found or recovered the bodies of 18 soldiers missing in action  during the course of the ongoing operations against militants in some coastal areas in Delta State.

Media reports yesterday had said  the bodies had been

The JTF Commander, Major-General Sarkin Yaki Bello, had in an international press conference in Warri three weeks ago, denied that scores of soldiers had been killed by the JTF during the “search and rescue operations by the task force in Warri South-West Local Government Area.

He said that eighteen JTF personnel were still missing, but said the military authorities would not presume the affected officers and men dead until their bodies were recovered or concrete evidence that they were dead could be obtained. “We can only tell you that they are missing in action”, he said.

Bello, however, confirmed the death of one soldier, who he said died in hospital from injuries sustained during the attack and destruction of Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND)'s Camp 5 headquarters.

Some soldiers wounded during the campaign were in various hospitals responding to treatment, the commander said.

The militant camp was also the base of fleeing militant kingpin, Mr. Government Ekpemupolo, who has since been declared wanted by the military authorities in Nigeria .

“The attention of the Joint Task Force (JTF), Operation Restore Hope, has been drawn to the publication on pages of most Nigerian daily newspapers today claiming that bodies of soldiers missing in action before and during JTF and militants clash were recovered in a mass grave.  These publications could be described as suicidal and untrue considering the security implications accompanying it.

“The JTF wishes to draw the attention of our respected reporters to the fact that there was no truth that it has found any grave which could be suspected to be those of our missing soldiers.

“We will also like to say that the militants had serious casualties on the day of the encounter, so if any grave was discovered by our respected men of the fourth estate of the realm, it could have as well, be those of the militants.  Therefore, the so-called mass grave can not be those of our missing colleagues as widely reported, as we had no casualties”, it said.

JTF further noted that “we want the general public to know that in the military (armed forces), we have guidelines and procedures of reporting missed in action and killed in action personnel, which must be followed and exhausted before being made public; but in the case of soldiers who missed (missing) on May 13, 2009, we are still hoping to see them alive, the reason why the search and rescue operations are still on-going.”