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Suspected Boko Haram gunmen have shot dead 21 people in northeast Nigeria who were trying to return home to recover abandoned supplies, a local official and a victim's relative said.

The victims, who were all male, were stopped at the village of Bultaram by gunmen believed to belong to Boko Haram and gunned down, an official from the Gujba local government in Yobe state said on Monday.

Family members of one of the victims told the AFP news agency that the men had gone back to their homes in the village to recover food supplies.

Gujba is one of a handful of districts in Yobe that Boko Haram captured during a sweeping offensive last year. Many of its residents have fled and sought refuge Yobe's capital Damaturu.

The area has been hit by waves of attacks during Boko Haram's six-year uprising, including a massacre at an agricultural college in 2013 that targeted students sleeping their dormitories.

Nigeria's military has since claimed a series of successes against Boko Haram in an operation launched in February with neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

Scores of towns previously under rebel control have reportedly been liberated.

Nigeria's military and outgoing president Goodluck Jonathan have encouraged those displaced by the uprising to return home, declaring much of the northeast  safe for resettlement.

But community leaders in the embattled region have warned civilians are still at risk of attacks by fighters, especially those returning to remote area like Gujba where the military's deployment has typically been thin.

Source: AFP