Hundreds of Boko Haram fighters have attacked a military post in southern Niger, killing 16 soldiers and wounding nine more, the defence ministry says.
About 50 attackers from the group were killed in the resulting combat in the West African country’s Diffa region and significant quantities of weapons were recovered, the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Boko Haram group launched an uprising in northeastern Nigeria in 2009, but violence frequently spills over into neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon in the Lake Chad Basin.
The attack late on Tuesday targeted the town of Baroua, where thousands of residents had only just returned after taking refuge elsewhere following rebel massacres in 2015.
More than 6,000 people had returned to Baroua in late June under a programme to encourage roughly 26,000 inhabitants in the region to leave safer villages or UN camps and go back to their homes.
The authorities said they had beefed up security to provide returnees with greater protection.
On Facebook, a local group called Jeunesse Diffa (Diffa Youth), which has closely reported on the security problems in southeast Niger, said “an enemy attack was firmly repelled”.
The world’s poorest country by the benchmark of the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI), Niger is facing rebel attacks on two borders.
The southeast of the country near the marshy Lake Chad region is being hit by fighters from Nigeria’s Boko Haram and its splinter group, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
The Diffa region hosts approximately 300,000 Nigerian refugees and locally displaced Nigeriens.
Western Niger, meanwhile, is battling bloody cross-border raids from armed groups in neighbouring Mali, who include followers of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).