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Nigerian Groups Seek Probe of Killings by Security Forces

Several rights groups and opposition parties in Nigeria have appealed to the government to investigate allegations of illegal killings by security forces during the recent clashes in the north of the country.

Nigerian authorities say most of those who died during a week of brutal violence in the north were members of the Islamic sect Boko Haram, killed in clashes with security forces. The Nigerian security forces have in the past been accused of reprisal killings and the use of excessive force.

Reports that the police may have killed people trying to flee the violence have prompted calls for an official investigation. Leading Nigerian rights groups accuse security forces of killing bystanders and other civilians during the siege on Boko Haram compound in Maiduguri. The police have denied any wrongdoing.

The leader of the Islamic extremist group, Mohammed Yusuf, was seized by Nigerian police and died hours later under mysterious circumstances. Many Nigerian groups have condemned what they say was an extra judicial killing. Joseph Otte is the executive Director of the Lagos-based rights group, Access to Justice.

"There is clearly a contradiction between what the military authorities have said and what the police said. There is a deliberate attempt to cover the truth of what exactly happened. It is very important that the government establishes a judicial commission to probe into what really happened," Otte said. "We are not just talking about the leaders of this religious sect. There were other people as well."

Red Cross and state officials say more than 700 people were killed in Maiduguri alone in five days of sectarian violence. President Umaru Yar'Adua, himself a Muslim from northern Nigeria, ordered security forces to crush the uprising, "once and for all."

Thousands of residents of Maiduguri remain huddled in barracks and police stations days after the violence ended, too afraid to return to what is left of their homes. A National Emergency Management Agency official in Maiduguri, Bolus Jedea, told reporters that more resources are needed to cope with the huge number of displaced people.

"We don't have adequate medicines to take care of the people at the camp. And then even the toilet provided for them is not adequate," Jedea said.

Followers of Boko Haram, which means "Western education is prohibited," attacked government buildings, police stations, prisons and churches in a wave of violence that began in Bauchi state and quickly spread to three other states in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation is roughly divided between Christians and Muslims.