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article imageNigeria: 185 die in fighting between Boko Haram, soldiers (Vid.)

By JohnThomas Didymus     Apr 22, 2013 in World
Maiduguri - Authorities said on Sunday that about 185 people were killed in fighting between Nigerian soldiers and Boko Haram militants in Baga, a fishing community in Nigeria's northwest Lake Chad region in Borno State.
AP reports that insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades exchanged fire with soldiers who sprayed machine-gun fire indiscriminately into neighborhoods filled with civilians.
According to the BBC, about 2,000 homes were destroyed in the fighting. AllAfrica.com reports that 64 motorcycles and 40 cars were burnt. A local trader told reporters that the fighting began at about 8 p.m. on Friday.
Frightened civilians fled their homes when fighting broke out. Officials who went to inspect the area after the fighting were confronted with scenes of widespread destruction.
AP notes that the fighting marks a significant escalation of the insurgency in Northern Nigeria.
A local government official in Baga, Lawan Kole, told the Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima who visited Baga, that authorities hurriedly buried at least 185 bodies on Sunday afternoon.
According to AP, a breakdown of the casualties into civilians, soldiers and insurgents was not available. Military authorities would be anxious to conceal any evidence that a disproportionate number of the victims were ordinary civilians caught in the crossfire. AP reports that many of the bodies picked up in the streets and hurriedly buried were burnt beyond recognition
The commander of the military task force, Brigadier General Austin Edokpaye, blamed the conflagration that razed several buildings and which caused most of the civilian casualties on the insurgents. He said the militants opened fire on his troops, using civilians as human shield.
AllAfrica.com reports that according to Brigadier Edokpaye, Boko Haram insurgents armed with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades launched an assault on Nigerian soldiers who surrounded a mosque they believed housed members of the militant sect who killed a military officer.
Local analysts consider Edokpaye's statement that the militants used civilians as human shield admission that Nigerian troops had opened fire in a area filled with civilian residents and caused high civilian causalities.
According to AllAfrica.com, Edokpaye, defending the army, said: "We lost an officer during the attack on our men on patrol. We've received an intelligence that some suspected Boko Haram members usually pray and hide arms at a particular mosque in town. It was around that mosque that our men were attacked with several of them injured and an officer died. When we reinforced and returned to the scene the terrorists came out with heavy firepower, including (rocket-propelled grenades), which usually has a conflagration effect."
The commander's statement unwittingly reveals an aspect of the tactical procedure Nigerian troops adopt that has been criticized by local international observers:
An incident in which militants kill an army personnel will often be followed by a vengeful reprisal attack after insurgents might have withdrawn or taken up positions facilitating easy tactical withdrawal, but leaving innocent civilians exposed to soldiers who, under the pretext of fighting insurgents, open fire on anything that moves.
AP reports local residents said soldiers deliberately set fire to buildings they knew were filled with civilians.
In a similar incident in Maiduguri a few months ago, soldiers killed 30 civilians in an attack after insurgents reportedly killed a military officer. Observers have expressed concern about the crude tactics of the Nigerian troops which they say provoke opposition among the local civilian populace and win popular support for the militants.
According to AP, on Sunday afternoon, the streets of Baga were lined with bullet riddled, smoldering buildings, and littered with charred carcasses of livestock. Civilians in a state of shock were seen leaving with belongings they were able to salvage, ignoring pleas from officials to stay.
AP reports that a grocer Bashir Isa, said: "Everyone has been in the bush since Friday night; we started returning back to town because the governor came to town today. To get food to eat in the town now is a problem because even the markets are burnt. We are still picking corpses of women and children in the bush and creeks."
AllAfrica.com reports that a resident lamented: "Only God can understand what we have done to deserve this. But the soldiers were mindless that night in their approach; they killed and burnt our houses, chased everyone into the bush including women and children. So far we have buried 185 corpses. – some were burnt beyond recognition; others are hospitalized with various degrees of burns."
According to the BBC, a Borno state military spokesman Lt Col Sagir Musa, told the AFP that the casualty figure reported in the media was "unthinkable." The BBC reports Musa said: "On my honor as an officer, nothing like that happened."
But local reporters know that military officials usually under-report civilian casualties in conflicts.
Isa Umar Gusau, an adviser to Borno state's governor, said: "It is very difficult to establish the number of casualties exactly. The figure of casualties given might not be correct, but we value human life. We regret the loss of even one live of any human being in Borno state."
The latest mayhem comes after reports that the Nigerian authorities are considering amnesty for Boko Haram insurgents who have been fighting against the central government since 2009 after a heavy-handed military crack-down in which Nigerian troops killed 700 people,
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