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Wednesday 25 April 2018

Freed Boko Haram captives safe

Women and children rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Boko Haram extremists arrive at a refugee camp (AP)
Women and children rescued by Nigerian soldiers from Boko Haram extremists arrive at a refugee camp (AP)

Hundreds of girls and women, many bewildered and traumatised, were being fed and given medical care in their first day out of Nigeria's war zone.

The group of 275 women and children were among the nearly 700 released in the past week by the Nigerian military from Boko Haram extremists and the first to be transported to the safety of a Malkohi refugee camp in Yola in the country's north-east.

Officials are still registering the 61 women and 214 children, almost all girls. Many critically malnourished babies and children have been put on intravenous drips in the clinic and 21 have been taken to hospital for gunshot wounds and fractured limbs, said a camp official.

Through interviews the officials are trying to determine where the women and children are from. It does not appear that any of those released are from the group of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram a year ago from the town of Chibok.

"Based on registration we have carried out so far, none of them is from Chibok," said Zakari Abubakar, Malkohi camp team leader for the National Emergency Management Agency. Almost all are from Gumsuri village near Chibok and which had been attacked many times in the past year, said Mr Abubakar.

The women and children were rescued by the military from the Sambisa Forest, the last stronghold of the Islamic extremists, and had to travel for three days on the open backs of military trucks to reach the safety of Malkohi Camp.

The Nigerian military said the women and girls were freed when soldiers destroyed more than a dozen insurgent camps.

When they finally arrived at the camp last night, they appeared exhausted and too distressed to realise they were safe, or to be questioned about their experiences under Boko Haram.

They were taken captive when Boko Haram had seized a large swathe of north-eastern Nigeria last year, declaring it an Islamic caliphate.

Nigerian troops ran away before their advance, complaining they were not given enough ammunition or food to fight, and leaving civilians with no defence against an uprising that killed as many as 10,000 people last year. Some 1.5 million people have been driven from their homes.

The tide has turned in the past nine weeks with a new infusion of armoury including helicopter gunships, and a coalition with neighbouring countries that brought in troops from Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

Meanwhile, community leaders have accused Nigerian troops of killing dozens of civilians and razing homes to avenge the deaths of six soldiers.

Traditional ruler Chief Jessie Miri told reporters up to 80 people have been killed in multiple attacks by soldiers over the weekend in Wase district of central Plateau state.

Spokesman Captain Ikwedichi Iweha denied the Special Task Force attacked any civilians, asking why they would attack people they are there to protect.

Residents said the soldiers arrived in more than a dozen armoured personnel carriers. Some tied the attacks on villagers of the Tarok tribe to Thursday's killings and mutilations of six soldiers by Tarok youths.

Plateau state is riven by violence over land use between mainly Christian farmers and mainly Muslim cattle herders that has killed thousands.

Press Association

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