UN Says 8,000 Flee Nigeria’s Crackdown on Islamists in Northeast

More than 8,000 people have fled Nigeria’s northeast to neighboring countries after the military started an air and ground offensive against Islamist militants in the region, the United Nations said.

The military of Africa’s largest oil producer began the operation against militants loyal to the Boko Haram group on May 16, two days after President Goodluck Jonathan imposed emergency rule in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. The insurgents, who have fought a violent campaign to impose Shariah law in Nigeria, were taking over parts of Borno, according to Jonathan.

Civilians who have fled “say they escaped for fear of being caught in the government-led crackdown on insurgents linked to the Boko Haram sect,” Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said today in an e-mailed statement.

They included civilians “particularly in the Baga area of northern Nigeria, close to the Niger border,” according to the statement.

As many as 228 people were killed and more than 2,000 houses were burned down in Baga, a fishing town on the shores of Lake Chad, after security forces responded to an attack by militants on April 16, according to local officials.

“Refugees report that air strikes by government forces are continuing from time to time,” Edwards said.

The offensive forced 6,240 Nigerians, nationals of Niger and Chadians, mostly women, children and elderly, to cross into Niger, according to the statement. About 716 Chadian citizens returned to their land-locked country, while 155 Nigerians are seeking asylum there. Cameroon received 1,200 returning citizens, UNHCR said.

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