Nigeria's military says at least 14 Islamic extremists and three soldiers have been killed in the country's northeast. The latest clashes are part of a government offensive against Boko Haram.
Nigeria's defense ministry said in a statement that special forces troops were continuing "the advance and attack on identified terrorist camps.”
The offensive has included air strikes on Boko Haram strongholds in remote parts of northeastern Borno state and has spread to the state capital Maiduguri, the insurgents' traditional home base.
The army operation against Boko Haram, the group that wants an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, aims to retake territory seized by the militants and rid the country of "terrorist activities," the military said.
A military spokesman, Brigadier General Chris Olukolade, said that one soldier was also missing after fighting over the last two days.
“Forces have been engaging a large number of heavily armed terrorists" he said. He also said that about 20 people had been arrested.
Olukolade said the extremists were in "disarray" and fleeing to Nigeria's borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger. He did not reveal exactly where the latest fighting occurred. There was no independent confirmation of the military's claims.
The military has imposed a round-the-clock curfew in the northeastern town, and has blocked supply routes out of Maiduguri to remote towns where insurgents have seized power.
Concerns over human rights abuses
Supplies were reportedly running short in the city, where Boko Haram was founded more than a decade ago by the radical cleric Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed in detention in 2009.
A decree by President Goodluck Jonathan put Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states under emergency rule, giving the military broad powers of arrest and allowing troops to occupy any building it suspects of housing extremists.
A crackdown on the insurgents in 2009, concentrated in Maiduguri, killed more than 800 people and forced the Islamists underground for a year.
Since re-emerging in 2010, they have carried out scores of attacks, including gun raids and suicide bombings.
Human rights groups have raised concerns about the operation's effects on the civilian population. Nigeria's military has been accused of human rights abuses in the past.
Nigeria's president set up a committee to work out the terms of a possible amnesty for Boko Haram members last month.
An amnesty for militants in the oil-producing Niger Delta in 2009 helped end a conflict there that cut oil output by nearly half at one stage. But Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau rejected the amnesty deal.
ch/slk (AFP, Reuters)