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May 19, 2013

Nigeria says 14 Militants, 3 Soldiers Killed in Latest Fighting

by Heather Murdock

The Nigerian military says it has killed 14 Boko Haram militants and arrested 20 others.  The military says three soldiers died in the fighting Sunday and another is missing.

It was only last Tuesday that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan ordered the immediate deployment of thousands of soldiers to the north to fight Boko Haram, a militant group that has been blamed for thousands of deaths in the past four years.  But as of Sunday, the military says 24 Boko Haram members have been killed and another 85 captured in the offensive.

VOA could not independently verify the military claims because roads to affected areas are blocked and communications networks are sporadic at best.  Some analysts fear the military, which international rights groups have accused of extra-judicial killings and other abuses, could alienate the people by killing civilians along with suspected militants.

A VOA reporter in Maiduguri, the epicenter of the insurrection, says many locals are suffering through a 24-hour curfew and largely lack the ability to communicate with the outside world.  But he says many residents believe the offensive could ultimately bring peace to the region, as long as the soldiers treat residents with care.

Ismail, a schoolteacher in Maiduguri, said “The state of emergency to some large extent (is) a welcome development.  But the only fear is how the security operatives will engage themselves in this operation with the rules of engagement in the back of their minds so that we will have minimal collateral damage, unlike the previous times.”  

The northern offensive was ordered after an escalation of Boko Haram-related violence recent months.  Officials say Boko Haram, which claims to want to impose Islamic law and secure the release of its imprisoned members, now has heavy artillery, like anti-tank guns and machine guns mounted on trucks.