Nigeria carnage - camps for victims
26 April 2013, 10:52
Maiduguri - Nigerian rescue workers set up temporary camps in a remote northeast town on Thursday and distributed aid to the masses displaced by brutal fighting that left 187 people dead.
The bloodshed in the town of Baga near Lake Chad last Friday probably marked the deadliest-ever episode in the insurgency of Boko Haram, a radical group which has said it wants to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria.
The military has been accused of firing indiscriminately on civilians and setting fire to nearly half the town, but Nigeria's defence ministry has fiercely denied those charges.
"Our team has set up 10 camps for displaced people," said the spokesperson for the National Emergency Management Agency (Nema), Manzo Ezekiel.
"Definitely thousands of people have been displaced, but as for now we cannot give the precise number," he added.
The Nema team includes medics to care for the injured, while food and clothing is also being distributed to the town which was the site of "barbaric" violence, area Governor Kashim Shettima said.
"If there is need, we are going to re-enforce immediately," the Nema spokesperson told AFP, noting that the devastation in Baga was still hard to quantify, nearly a week after the fighting.
The Red Cross also has personnel on the ground, but spokesperson Nwakpa O Nwakpa told AFP Thursday that his staff have still not completed a needs assessment.
Baga is in Borno state, considered Boko Haram's home base, but the town had not previously seen such intense fighting.
The Islamist group has used Borno's capital as a base, but many of the insurgents have fled to more remote corners of the state following crackdowns by the security forces in the capital.
There are conflicting reports about what happened in Baga and access to the town has been impossible without a security escort for the drive on poor roads in a region which has seen waves of attacks.
The military has described the violence as a typical encounter with Boko Haram, similar to those seen across northern and central Nigeria since the insurgency started in 2009.
But residents and local officials have said that after gun battles with the Islamists began, soldiers went on a rampage, firing on civilians while torching homes and a market.
President Goodluck Jonathan's media advisor on Thursday called the events in Baga "unprecedented," but said he trusted the military's account.
"This battle went on for more than four hours... There was mayhem and a lot of panic" in the town, Doyin Okupe told the Channels television station, insisting the massive blazes were sparked by insurgent grenades.
Nigeria's security forces have previously been accused by leading rights groups of widespread atrocities, including summary executions.
The Red Cross has said that 187 people were killed, while the military has countered with a figure of 37.
The conflict with Boko Haram has killed more than 3 000 people since 2009, including deaths caused by the security forces.
The violence continued overnight on Thursday, when suspected Boko Haram gunmen stormed a military post and two police stations in the northeastern town of Gashua.
The security forces returned fire, sparking a battle that killed two police and five insurgents, military spokesman in Yobe state Eli Lazarus said in a statement.