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Nigeria returns 3,000 displaced after jihadist violence

Nigeria returns 3,000 displaced after jihadist violence

AFP
Kano, Nigeria
Authorities in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state on Monday began returning around 3,000 people to their homes six years after they were displaced by jihadist violence, officials said.
The operation came after a weekend attack on farm workers killed dozens of people in Nigeria’s northeast in one of the deadliest assaults this year blamed on Islamist militants.
A UN humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria had initially said on Sunday that at least 110 farm workers were killed in the attack on the village of Koshobe and nearby communities but in a statement on Monday said there had been “several dozen” dead.
The governor of Borno State said more than 70 people had been killed and that the town, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the state capital Maiduguri, still had people missing.
The returnees who fled their homes in Marte in Lake Chad region in 2014 were packed into dozens of trucks and buses from Bakassi camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Maiduguri.
The return was of a first group of IDPs from Marte, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said in a statement.
“I’m very happy to return to my roots which I left six years ago,” returnee Bukar Kyarimi told AFP. “We need to go back and tend our abandoned farms but we hope the government will give us adequate protection from the insurgents.”
“We are eager to go back to our homes but what happened in Koshobe... is frightening,” said another returnee, referring to the weekend attack.
The decade-long jihadist conflict has forced around two million out of their homes, most of them from northern Borno, pushing them into squalid camps in Maiduguri where they rely on food handouts from international charities.
The authorities have been encouraging people displaced by the jihadist violence to go back to their homes, saying the camps were no longer sustainable, despite concern from aid agencies that it was not safe for them to return.
Saturday’s massacre of farm workers near Maiduguri underlines the security risk the displaced face on their return.
In the last two years, residents were returned to five major towns where they are confined under military protection, with trenches dug around the towns to fend off attacks by the jihadists.
Despite the security measures, the insurgents have continued to launch attacks on the fortified towns.
The IS-affiliated Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), which split from the main Boko Haram faction in 2016, keeps camps in islands on Lake Chad -- where Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad meet -- and the area is known to be the group’s bastion.
The group focuses on military targets, but it has increasingly been abducting and killing civilians at bogus checkpoints as well as raiding villages for supplies.
In August, hundreds of residents in the town of Kukawa in the Lake Chad area were taken hostage by ISWAP fighters for days.
In September, thousands of residents of Baga on the shores of the lake returned to their homes they fled in 2014.
They have been restricted to its confines for fear of ISWAP fighters who have killed residents who went fishing, according to locals and security sources.
At least 36,000 people have been killed in the jihadist conflict since 2009 and violence has spread into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military coalition.

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