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Africa

Nigeria closes borders as military dismiss new 'baseless' kidnappings

In a sign of ratcheting tension, Nigeria has ordered the closure of land and sea borders before a tightly-fought presidential election. Uncertainty surrounds the fate of hundreds of alleged kidnap victims.

Boko Haram militants are reported to have abducted hundreds of people in Damasak, Borno State, northeastern Nigeria in the latest militant attack on a town recently retaken by multinational forces.

The militants were forced out of Damasak last week by troops from Chad and Niger, who are fighting Boko Haram alongside Nigeria.

The Reuters news agency quotes a trader in Damasak as saying that Boko Haram took 506 young women and children and killed about 50 of them before departing. According to another resident, the militants rounded up the captives in the main mosque before taking them out of town.

German news agency dpa said young and able-bodied men and women in Damasak, if they were lucky, were able to escape when Boko Haram took over the town. The only people left were the aged and mainly women and children. They were killed or taken away, dpa said.

Map of Nigeria showing Damasak

Nigeria has been making gains in the fight against Boko Haram since it acquired the backing of troops from neighboring countries

Nigerian military rejects reports of kidnappings

The Nigerian military have dismissed reports that some 400 women and children were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants while fleeing from Damasak as baseless, according to DW's northern Nigeria correspondent Muhammad Al-Amin.

There are conflicting reports over the date of the kidnappings. Buhari Mustapha, a resident of a village near Damasak, told DW's Hausa service that people were abducted from the town before it was recaptured from Boko Haram. "They are not up to 500 as some people are saying, from our understanding they are about 80 in number. They are under-age children and some married women among them and there has been no news about them since that time," he said.

Ryan Cummings from risk consultants red24 told DW that while it was difficult to specify and verify the numbers being suggested in terms of kidnapped hostages, it did seem that a large part of Damasak's population is no longer in the town.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan

Goodluck Jonathan: ordered the closure of borders

But he admitted there were uncertainties.

"I think the big issue with this situation in northeastern Nigeria is that there is a significant lack of media presence and a reliance on second hand accounts within the region," he said.

Only a few independent journalists were working in the region, because of poor security and military control over access to the region. Telephone communications have also been cut and information trickles out slowly, dpa said.

President Goodluck Jonathan sent troops to Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States when he declared a state of emergency there in May 2013 in a bid to contain the Boko Haram insurgency

The latest alleged kidnappings come as Jonathan seeks re-election in a nationwide poll on Saturday and may remind voters of the missing Chibok girls.

Some 276 girls were snatched before dawn from a government boarding school in Chibok on April 15, 2014. 219 are still missing despite numerous promises by officials to secure their release and a big campaign on social media.

Closing borders

President Jonathan, who has been widely criticized for his handling of the Chibok kidnappings, has announced that Nigeria was closing its borders from midnight Wednesday to midnight Saturday local time.

Muhammadu Buhari on the campaign trail in Nigeria in 2015

Muhammadu Buhari, Jonathan's main rival in 'the closest election on record'

The interior ministry said the move was designed "to allow for peaceful conduct of forthcoming national elections."

Security is a major issue at Nigerian elections, with politically linked violence often flaring up between supporters of rival parties.

Voters are split right down the middle according to the research firm Afrobarometer. 42 percent plan to vote for Goodluck Jonathan's People's Demcoratic Party (PDP) , and 42 percent for Muhammadu Buhari's All Progressives Congress (APC).

"It's the closest election on record," said Afrobarometer's Nengak Daniel.

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