High death toll feared in Nigerian clashes | Africa | DW | 22.04.2013
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High death toll feared in Nigerian clashes

Dozens of people have been killed in fierce fighting between Nigerian soldiers and suspected members of Islamist sect Boko Haram. Rights groups say the deaths highlight fears of growing civilian casualties.

The fighting broke out over the weekend, in the remote fishing village of Baga, when gunmen who were believed to be hiding among civilians opened fire to Nigerian soldiers. Some residents say the clashes started when troops surrounded a mosque that was allegedly harboring insurgents.

According to an official who toured the village on Monday several homes, businesses, vehicles and a market had been destroyed by fire.

DW correspondent Sam Olukoya says local people accuse the military for burning their houses while they were looking for Boko Haram members. The military accuse Boko Haram of using civilians as human shields.

Okechukwu Nwanguma, is a human rights activist who monitor rights abuses by security agencies. Speaking to DW, he said the death toll reflects the growing civilian casualties in the attempt to quell the Boko Haram insurgency.

A Man in a military uniform with a gun on his hands (Foto:Sunday Alamba/AP/dapd)

Rights groups have accused Nigerian forces of massive rights violations.

"We are worried about the increasing high handedness with which the joint security task force continue to deal with this situation," Nwanguma said.

According to the German news agency, dpa, at least 185 people were killed in the latest incident, many of them being women and children. If these claims are true this could mark a major escalation linked to Boko Haram insurgency since the group started its operations in 2009.

Speaking to the AFP news agency, Borno state military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa dismissed these casualty figures as extensively inflated. "There could have been some casualties, but it is unthinkable to say that 185 people died," he said.

"On my honor as an officer, nothing like that happened," Musa added.

Fighting for an Islamic state

But Nigeria's forces are said to have a long history in lessening casualty figures when it comes to the conflict with Boko Haram, in a bid to play down the insurgency's capacity, AFP observed.

Boko Haram leader of the radical Islamist sect Imam Abubakar Shekau (AP Photo)

One Boko Haram leader is believed to have already turned down any possible offer of an amnesty

It remains unclear, however, how many of the dead were civilians and who was responsible for the killings.

Baga village is located just 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Borno state's capital Maiduguri, which is a stronghold of Islamist sect Boko Haram.

They are blamed of carrying out series of attacks across northern Nigeria, killing thousands of people since they started their operation in 2009.That includes people killed by the security forces.

Nigerian forces have also been accused of by international rights groups of massive abuses, especially in the northeast.

Boko Haram is trying to push for the implementation of sharia law in Nigeria's mostly Muslim north. However, their demands have been changing repeatedly.

Last week the Nigerian government set a panel to study how Islamist insurgents could be offered an amnesty.

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