22 April 2013

Nigeria: High Death Toll Feared in Nigeria After Boko Haram Battle

Fighting between Nigeria's military and Islamists has killed dozens. Though the government estimate on casualties is vague, some sources put the figure as high as 185 killed.

Gun battles broke out in the remote fishing village of Baga on Friday, forcing residents to flee the town that also serves as a small trading centre on the shores of Lake Chad. People only started to return to their homes on Sunday.

News about the extent of the fighting began to emerge on Monday, with local government officials estimating as many as 185 killed.

The village lies in Borno state, home base of the Boko Haram Islamists blamed for carrying out scores of attacks across northern and central Nigeria since 2009.

"There could have been some casualties, but it is unthinkable to say that 185 people died," Borno state military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa told the news agency AFP, calling media reports "extensively inflated."

Residents told a delegation led by regional Governor Kashim Shettima that clashes started when troops surrounded a mosque allegedly sheltering insurgents. When the final death toll is released, it is expected to include civilians as well as members of the security forces and Boko Haram militants.

'We really don't know'

Nigeria's security forces have frequently minimized casualty figures in the conflict with Boko Haram.

Resentment of the military runs high in some communities, however, and locals have been known to inflate death tolls and accuse the military of indiscriminately killing civilians.

"We really don't know yet how many people died," Nwakpa O. Nwakpa, a spokesman for the Red Cross, told the news agency AFP. "We just mobilized our volunteers."

"Once the security situation is clear, they will move in," he added.

Including people killed by security services, the conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government has left an estimated 3,000 dead since 2009.

Unable to put an end to the violence thus far, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has set up a panel to study how an amnesty could be offered to Boko Haram. It remains unclear, however, whether the group would accept any such proposal.

- AFP, dpa, AP

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