187 dead, 77 wounded in northern Nigeria clashes: Red Cross

AFP , Monday 22 Apr 2013

Clashes erupt between Islamists and military troops in the fishing village of Baga on Lake Chad, leading to the killing of 187 people and injury of 77 others

Residents gather at the border town of Baga, after heaving fighting between security forces and Islamist militants, April 21, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

Fierce fighting between Nigerian troops and suspected Islamists has killed 187 people and injured 77 others, a Red Cross spokesman told AFP on Monday.

"So far, 187 dead have been buried, while 77 are under admission in hospitals. Over 300 houses were burnt down," Red Cross spokesman Nwakpa O. Nwakpa told AFP of the massive gun battles that broke out Friday in the remote northeastern town of Baga

Nigeria's military clashed with suspected Islamist insurgents in a remote northeastern village at the weekend, but casualty figures remained unclear, officials said on Monday.

The clashes broke out in the fishing village of Baga on Lake Chad, leaving scores of buildings burnt, according to an official who toured the area on Sunday with regional governor Kashim Shettima.

The military spokesman for the Borno state, Lt. Colonel Sagir Musa told AFP that media reports that some 180 people could have died in the clashes were "extensively inflated."

Scores of residents fled when the fighting broke out on Friday and had still not returned on Sunday, said the governor aide, who requested anonymity.

Although there were signs of heavy damage from the fighting, officials have not yet said how many died in the clashes.

"There could have been some casualties, but it is unthinkable to say that 185 people died," Musa said, when asked about media reports.

"On my honour as an officer, nothing like that happened." He declined to offer a specific figure.

Nigeria's security forces have a history of downplaying casualty figures in the conflict with Boko Haram, the Islamist group based in the Borno state which has left several thousand people dead.

Resentment of the military is high in some communities and locals have in the past given inflated deaths tolls while accusing the military of indiscriminately killing civilians during their operations.

Locals reported that the clashes began when the military surrounded a mosque housing suspected Islamists.

Boko Haram has said it is fighting to create an Islamic state in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north, but the group's demands have shifted repeatedly.

The Islamists have used the Borno state capital of Maiduguri as a base, but scores of insurgents have reportedly fled to more remote corners of the state following a crackdown by security forces in the capital.

The conflict is estimated to have left about 3,000 people dead since 2009, including killings by the security forces, who have been accused of by international rights groups of massive abuses, especially in the northeast.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous country and top oil producer.

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