Nigeria's military says it is battling audacious tribal militias in central Nigeria and denies charges by community leaders that its troops have killed dozens of civilians.

A statement Monday from the Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, said militias engaged troops during weekend raids by the Special Task Force in central Plateau state. He said 32 suspected militants were killed, 10 arrested and soldiers sustained various injuries.

Traditional ruler Chief Jessie Miri told reporters Sunday that as many as 80 civilians were killed by soldiers. Residents said most victims were women and children.

Residents suggested the attacks were to avenge the killings of six soldiers last week.

Olukolade said troops were responding to a dangerous militia that has grown into "a formidable criminal gang that must be stopped."