Nigerian army starts offensive against Islamists | Africa | DW | 16.05.2013
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Africa

Nigerian army starts offensive against Islamists

More than 2,000 soldiers and several fighter jets have been deployed in northern Nigeria in response to attacks attributed to Islamist group Boko Haram. Rights groups fear there could be more civilian deaths.

The Nigerian military offensive against Boko Haram insurgents in northern Nigeria has now begun in earnest, following President Goodluck Jonathan's announcement of a state of emergency in three states on Tuesday (15.05.2013). 

 Speaking from Gombe in northern Nigeria, DW correspondent Al-Amin Muhammad said the situation in the region was tense and many people were  packing their bags and leaving their villages for fear of being caught up in fighting between the Nigerian army and Islamist rebels.

Telephone connections were reported to be cut off in many parts of the north and most shops in Maiduguri, Damaturu and Yola were closed on Thursday.

"I have tried to call my friends in Borno and Yobe state but I couldn't get through" said Idris, a journalist based on the border between Yobe and Bauchi states who did not wish to give his full name. He said he had seen lorries full of people driving away from Yobe state.

The scene at Gamboru market after multiple explosions in Maiduguri, northern Nigeria in February 2012. EPA/STR

Islamist militants have killed thousands of civilians since they started operating in 2009

'Need to respect human dignity'

 President Goodluck Jonathan has authorized a sweeping operation to flush out Boko Haram in the north by sending in not only thousands of troops but also fighter jets.

"There are heavy machines deployed which means there is every likelihood of the Nigerian military attacking or using airstrikes against Boko Haram," Al-Amin Muhammad told DW's Africalink program.

Speaking on behalf of the governor of Yobe state, spokesperson Abdullahi Bego told DW  they will support all measures that will lead the country to peace.

"The governor calls for the people to remain calm and follow the law. He calls on all the soldiers to respect  human dignity and not mistreat civilians. We hope that this move will lead us to peace," Bego said in an interview with DW's Hausa service.

Human rights abuses feared

President Jonathan has given security forces extra powers as part of new measures intended to restore security in the country. Nigerian troops are now allowed to take over any building or structure used by Boko Haram members.

Soldiers fire rifles on a shooting range. (Photo: EPA/DEJI YAKE +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)

President Jonathan has declared a state of emergency in three states in northern Nigeria.

Local and international human rights organizations have expressed fears that the offensive could increase human rights abuses and escalate the conflict.

Okechukwu Nwanguma is a human rights activist who monitors rights abuses by security agencies.

"It shows the weakness and inefficiency in our law enforcement system that the only alternative to dealing with this is maximum violence," Nwaguma told DW.

He added that every time this happens, "it is ordinary civilians, the young people, women, children, the elderly that get caught in the cross fire."

President Jonathan's move has been hailed by many Nigerians as the only way to curb the insurgency which since 2009 has cost thousands of lives.

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