Baga raid: Satellite images 'show Nigeria army abuse'

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Before, 6 April 2013

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After, 26 April 2013

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Satellite images reveal that 2,275 homes were destroyed during a military raid to hunt down militant Islamists in the northern Nigerian town of Baga last month, a rights group has said.

Human Rights Watch said soldiers "engaged more in destruction than in protection" after Boko Haram fighters attacked a military patrol.

The army has not commented on the latest allegations.

It has said 37 people were killed; others say more than 180 died.

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I lost everything in my house after soldiers came and set my house ablaze”

End Quote Ibrahim Modu Baga resident

The Islamist Boko Haram group has waged an insurgency to create an Islamic state since 2010.

Correspondents say soldiers have often been accused of using excessive force in its efforts to put down the insurgency.

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan regarded the conflict in Baga as "most regrettable and unfortunate", his office said, in a statement on Tuesday.

"He reaffirmed his full commitment to doing all within the powers of the federal government to speedily end the intolerable threats to national security which have necessitated such confrontations," it said.

'Duty of protection'

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Nigerian authorities to impartially investigate and prosecute soldiers responsible for recent violence in Baga.

It said satellite images it had analysed undermined the military's assertion that only 30 houses were destroyed during the fighting in Baga, a remote fishing community on the shores of Lake Chad, on 16 and 17 April.

Baga residents told HRW that soldiers ransacked the town after Boko Haram killed a soldier during an attack on a military patrol.

Maina Ma'aji Lawan, a senator for the area, told the BBC Hausa service that more than 4,000 houses had been burnt and more than 200 people had died.

Community leaders told HRW that 2,000 burned homes had been counted and 183 bodies identified after the military raid ended.

Satellite images corroborated this account and had identified 2,275 destroyed buildings with another 125 severely damaged, the US-based rights group said.

Satellite images of Baga, Nigeria

"The Nigerian military has a duty to protect itself and the population from Boko Haram attacks, but the evidence indicates that it engaged more in destruction than in protection," Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

The BBC's Nigeria correspondent Will Ross says the area is a stronghold of Boko Haram and one eyewitness said prior to the violence that soldiers had accused residents of sheltering the militants.

"I lost everything in my house after soldiers came and set my house ablaze," Baga resident Ibrahim Modu told the Associated Press news agency.

"They met me outside, walked into my house and put it on fire, after which they told me to leave so that I don't get burnt by the fire."

A man walks past burnt houses in the remote north-eastern town of Baga in Nigeria on 21 April 2013 after clashes Community leaders dispute the army's version of events

A 27-year-old woman, who stayed in her house after the gunfire erupted, described to HRW how soldiers went door-to-door looking for any men that remained in her neighbourhood.

"I saw the soldiers drag a man out of another house. They started beating him with their guns. They were beating him severely and he was crying," she is quoted by HRW as saying.

"The man then ran, and I saw the soldiers shoot him. I heard the gunshots and saw him fall. On the other side of the road the soldiers were beating other people."

Another resident said soldiers threw explosives into houses.

"They would throw [the explosive] and then fire would come out of it. I saw them do this to about 10 houses," he is quoted as saying.

'Misinformation'

Mr Jonathan's office said Nigeria's Human Rights Commission (HRC) would carry out an independent investigation, and any "misconduct" on the part of the military would be dealt with.

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It is on record that the terrorists employ the tactics of arson wherever they attack”

End Quote Presidential statement

A preliminary investigation by the military high command and the National Emergency Management Authority (Nema) showed that a lot of misinformation was being "peddled" about the situation in Bega, his office said.

Reports that more than 180 people died could not be substantiated, and Nema officials could identify only 32 fresh graves during their visit to the area, the president's office added.

They also reported that that while some houses and businesses were burnt it was "certainly not up to the number quoted", it said.

"It is pertinent to note that the houses in question are mostly thatched roof houses that could easily catch fire. It is on record that the terrorists employ the tactics of arson wherever they attack," Mr Jonathan's office said.

In the week after the conflict in Baga, the military said 30 militants, one soldier and six civilians died.

Rocket-propelled grenades and bomb-making material had been recovered in the raid, it added.

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