Clashes in Nigeria’s Baga Left ‘Massive Destruction,’ HRW Says

Fighting in the northeastern Nigerian town of Baga left 2,275 buildings destroyed, according to satellite images compiled by Human Rights Watch, as the military disputed death toll figures from local officials.

Analysis of high-resolution images from April 6 and April 26, before and after violence in the area, “confirms massive destruction of civilian property,” the New York-based group said in an e-mailed statement today that included the images. The National Emergency Management Agency said in a preliminary report received by the presidency yesterday that while some buildings were destroyed, the number of homes in the town were “far less than 1,000.”

The fighting began on April 19 after a military patrol was attacked near a mosque where Islamist militants from the Boko Haram group had previously hidden weapons, according to Austin Edokpaye, a spokesman for the joint military task force in the region. Maina Ma’aji Lawan, a senator representing the area, said on April 27 that 228 people were killed. Residents buried at least 185 bodies, Lawan Kole, a local government official in the Kukawa area council, said last week.

According to Nigeria’s military, only 30 Boko Haram militants were killed and that six bodies were recovered in Lake Chad, about 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) away, the presidency said, citing the preliminary report. The clash, which involved a multinational task force, took place on April 16, not April 19, according to the report.

The U.S. State Department and international rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have criticized the Nigerian military and police for using excessive force as they battle Boko Haram. The militants have carried out gun and bomb attacks in the mainly Muslim north and in Abuja, the capital, that have killed hundreds of people since 2009.

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