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Nigeria military says 20 Islamists killed No independent confirmation of death toll

ABUJA, March 7, (AFP): Nigeria’s military said on Thursday that it had killed 20 Islamist insurgents in the restive northeast, as schools were shut in the region to prevent further attacks targeting students. Defence spokesman Chris Olukolade said troops repelled an ambush by Boko Haram militants on Wednesday in Mafa, Borno state, epicentre of the uprising which has killed 500 people this year alone. “Twenty insurgents died in the encounter,” he said in a statement.

There was no independent confirmation of the death toll. Communication with the region has been difficult after the military switched off mobile phone networks to prevent militants from planning attacks. Boko Haram gunmen were blamed for killing 29 people in the village on Sunday, a day after a twin blast in the state capital Maiduguri killed 35 and an attack on another village nearby claimed 39 lives.

Witnesses and an area senator claimed the soldiers deployed in the town fled when the insurgents attacked, a claim fiercely denied by the military. Olukolade on Thursday denounced such “inflammatory pronouncements by some highly placed persons in government” (and) “commentators in and outside the country who have consistently given false and misleading remarks to describe the disposition of troops”. There have been repeated reports of Nigerian troops fleeing when confronted by Boko Haram but Olukolade insisted “the Nigerian military cannot by any standard be overwhelmed by the insurgents”. Separately, local media reported that Nigeria’s information ministry will be allocating 300 million naira ($1.8 million, 1.3 million euros) to combat misinformation published in the foreign media, particularly concerning the Boko Haram conflict. Meanwhile, in the wake of a spate of gruesome massacres of students in the northeast, the education ministry said it had shut five government colleges (secondary schools) in “high security risk areas”.

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