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UN Suspends Aid in Nigeria's Borno State as Thousands Flee Armed Attacks

FILE - People walk on a street in the town of Damasak, northeast Nigeria, April, 25 2017. The U.N. has suspended aid operations in the town after attacks targeting aid workers and humanitarian agencies in April 2021.

The United Nations says it has suspended aid operations in Damasak in the Nigerian state of Borno after armed groups attacked aid workers and humanitarian agencies.

A series of clashes this week between insurgent groups and the Nigerian armed forces in the town have sent 80 percent of the town's population — about 65,000 people — fleeing for their lives.

Preliminary reports indicate eight people have been killed and a 12 injured in the fighting.

U.N. and nongovernmental operations have been suspended, and staff have been relocated since April 11, one day after the first of three consecutive attacks by unidentified armed groups.

The spokesman for the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jens Laerke, said agencies were forced to shut down because of targeted attacks by insurgents against aid workers, humanitarian assets and facilities.

"And recently, (insurgents were) also conducting house to house searches, reportedly looking for civilians identified as aid workers. So, in less than a week we have had incidents on the 10th and 11th of April where humanitarian assets have been targeted," he said.

Laerke said at least five offices of NGOs have been destroyed, in addition to a mobile storage unit, water tanks, several vehicles, a health outpost and a nutrition stabilization center.

In addition, the U.N. said that assailants have looted and burned down private homes, warehouses of humanitarian agencies, a police station, and a clinic. Laerke said the suspension of aid will have huge consequences.

"Humanitarian aid operations and facilities are the lifeline of people in northeast Nigeria who depend on our assistance to survive," he said. "These violent attacks in Damasak will affect the support of nearly 9,000 internally displaced people that we were helping and 76,000 people in the host communities who were receiving humanitarian assistance and protection."

Violence in the Lake Chad Basin has uprooted 3.3 million people since 2009, when the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram launched its insurgency.

The displaced include more than 300,000 Nigerians, who have fled to neighboring countries for refuge, and some 2.2 million people within northeastern Nigeria, especially in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states.