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Uprising in Nigeria kills 1,500 people this year, says Amnesty Military hits back at Boko Haram abuse claims

LAGOS, Nigeria, March 31, (Agencies): Increasing atrocities by extremists and uncontrolled reprisals by security forces have killed at least 1,500 people this year in northeastern Nigeria’s Islamic uprising, Amnesty International reported Monday, accusing both sides of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In a new report, the London-based advocacy group called for an international investigation. “The international community cannot continue to look the other way in the face of extrajudicial executions, attacks on civilians and other crimes under international law being committed on a mass scale,” said Netsanet Belay, the group’s advocacy director for Africa.

Defense Ministry spokesman Brig Gen Chris Olukolade questioned Amnesty International’s motives and insisted “we try our best.” “It’s strange that despite all our efforts to ensure that we observe every detail of human rights requirements, that any organization is still desperate to compare us with terrorists,” he said. The report said the toll of more than 1,500 deaths indicated “an alarming deterioration.” That would equal the total number of people killed since the uprising began in 2010 through June 2013, according to an Associated Press count. The extremists struck again Sunday night, burning down the military quarters and destroying a cellular telephone tower in Ngelzarma town, Yobe state. Resident Abdullahi Umaru said the militants killed three police officers and two soldiers.

Residents fled Monday morning. This year started turbulently for the military, with President Goodluck Jonathan firing all his service chiefs and then replacing the defense minister last month, amid growing anger at the military’s inability to curb the killings. Three northeastern states covering one-sixth of the country have been under a military state of emergency since May last year. More than half of those killed this year have been civilians slaughtered by extremists, Amnesty International said. They include scores of students who were gunned down in schools, had their throats slit or were burned alive in locked dormitories set aflame while they slept. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s military on Monday denied claims from Amnesty International that its troops may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the fight against Islamist insurgents Boko Haram.

The human rights group has called on the international community to push for an independent investigation into alleged abuses after a bloody three months which have left more than 1,500 dead. In particular, Amnesty alleged that hundreds of suspected militants were summarily executed after escaping from a detention facility at the Giwa barracks in the northeast city of Maiduguri on March 14. Defence spokesman Chris Olukolade said the military would look closely at Amnesty’s claims but so far had not received the group’s report. He told AFP: “It’s strange that despite all our efforts to ensure that we observe every detail of human rights requirement that any organisation is still desperate to compare us with terrorists. “It is unfortunate. We feel the motive is suspect.... “But we know that in our own case, we have continued to try our best that human rights are not abused and we will continue to go by the best standard in our operations.”

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