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Dozens Killed as Nigerian Army Mistakenly Bombs Refugee Camp


This handout image received courtesy of Doctors Without Border (MSF), Jan. 17, 2017, shows a wounded child after an air force jet accidentally bombarded a camp for those displaced by Boko Haram Islamists, in Rann, northeast Nigeria.

A Nigerian military airstrike killed more than 50 people Tuesday in what officials are calling an accidental bombing during operations targeting the militant group Boko Haram.

The military initially said the airstrike in Rann hit a camp for people internally displaced by Boko Haram, but presidential spokesman Femi Adesina told VOA it struck a civilian area.

Adesina said there had been some Boko Haram activities nearby and the military made an "operational mistake" while in the process of trying to "take out the insurgents."

President Muhammadu Buhari promised support for the victims in a statement on his official Twitter account.

"I received with regret news that the Air Force, working to mop up BH insurgents, accidentally bombed a civilian community in Rann, Borno State," he said.

Aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said that its members were treating 120 wounded patients in their facility in the Northern Borno state. MSF put the death toll at 52 in a statement released in the hours after the attack.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said six of its Nigerian members were among the dead.

Major General Lucky Irabor, who heads the military operation against Boko Haram militants in the area, said the air force was given coordinates of terrorists.

"Unfortunately the strike was conducted but it turned out that the locals somewhere in Rann were affected," he told reporters at a briefing in the state capital.

The United Nations sent medical personnel and supplies to the area, and airlifted out eight injured Nigeria Red Cross workers. A statement from the U.N. humanitarian office said there are 43,000 internally displaced people in Rann, where access to deliver aid to address food shortages and severe malnutrition has been difficult.

"This is an unfortunate tragedy that befell people already suffering the effects of violence," said the U.N.'s humanitarian chief for Nigeria Edward Kallon.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement Wednesday calling on Nigeria to compensate the families of the victims.

"Even if there is no evidence of a willful attack on the camp, which would be a war crime, the camp was bombed indiscriminately, violating international humanitarian law," said Mausi Segun, a senior Nigeria researcher at HRW.

The bombing comes as the Nigerian military claims more and more territory in Borno - Boko Haram's stronghold. Last month the army said the conflict was in its final stages after 8 years of violence which has left at least 20,000 dead and over 2 million homeless.