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Conflicting death tolls in Nigeria violence

Army insists battle with Boko Haram in Borno state left no more than 36 dead, not hundreds as claimed by rights groups.

Last Modified: 01 May 2013 22:07
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New evidence obtained by Al Jazeera suggests the number of people killed during recent fighting in northern Nigeria may be much higher than officially reported.

In the violence's aftermath, the number of people killed during the April 16 clash between Nigerian security forces and the armed group Boko Haram was subject to wildly conflicting reports.

Boko Haram is an armed, radical group fighting against Western influence in the predominantly Muslim north of Nigeria.

It wants to introduce Islamic law in the areas in which it has influence.

The Nigerian army is standing by its claim that no more than 36 people died during the fight in Baga, a town in Borno state, and that the vast majority of victims were members of Boko Haram.

Local politicians and residents say as many as 200 people, largely civilians, died in the violence, a claim supported by aid organisations.

Survivor's account

The army maintains that it was protecting the town's people from the fighters.

Al Jazeera's Yvonne Ndege is one of the only television journalists to have gained access to the area and spoke to soldiers and the people of Baga about the clash.

 

Fatima Ahmadu, a grandmother who lost three relatives during the violence, described fleeing for her life after the battle started.

"We were all asleep when a group of men set fire to our house," she said.

"Me, my children and grandchildren ran out for our lives. We have lost everything."

More than two weeks after the fighting between Boko Haram and the military, Baga is still overrun with soldiers and, until now, media access has been prevented.

Some residents our correspondent spoke to said the violence started when Boko Haram fighters attacked villagers and killed a soldier, prompting the military to fight back.

Claims by Human Rights Watch, the US-based watchdog group, that 2,000 homes were burnt down have been vehemently denied by the army, which maintains that only 30 homes were destroyed, none by the armed forces.

Al Jazeera's Ndege also gained access to the site where fighters killed in the clash were apparently buried.

Death toll disputed

There are about 20 graves at the site, and the army denies the existence of a mass grave.

“So there are no 200 graves?" Lieutenant-Colonel Sagir Musa said, referring to the death toll cited by local politicians and residents.

"Look at whole of the cemetery here, are there up to 200? Look at it.  And the mass grave people are talking about?

"Where is the mass grave? Is there anything that looks like a mass grave.

"A mass grave is usually bigger. This is one man. So where is it?"

Back in the main town some people are trying to go back to their normal way of life.

Many other residents are on edge because the military says the Boko Haram fighters that fled the battle could return at any moment and attack the town.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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