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Boko Haram accused of escalating abductions

Human Rights Watch report details abuses endured by escapees who described forced marriages and rapes

Dozens of young men and women are being abducted by extremists in northeast Nigeria, casting doubt on a cease-fire that the government said would secure the release of 219 schoolgirls held captive by an armed group since April.

Thirty teenage girls and boys have been kidnapped since Wednesday from villages around Mafa town in the western state of Borno, the local government chairman Shettima Maina told reporters.

Escaping residents said Boko Haram insurgents abducted 80 girls and women from neighboring Adamawa State on Oct. 18.

Older women in the group who were released the following day said the extremists kept about 40 younger women and girls. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by the insurgents.

On Oct. 17, Nigeria's military announced a cease-fire had been reached with Boko Haram. Troops were ordered to immediately comply with the deal.

Boko Haram, which only communicates messages via videos of a man claiming to be its leader, Abubakar Shekau, has not yet commented on the alleged cease-fire.

But the insurgents have launched several attacks since then and on Friday a multinational force, including troops from Nigeria and neighboring Niger, wrested back control of a town held by Boko Haram on the western shores of Lake Chad.

Witnesses and a security official said more than 20 insurgents were killed in fierce fighting in Borno’s Abadam area, in which the Nigerian Air Force bombed occupied posts and ground troops opened fire after which the insurgents fled.

Boko Haram had hoisted their black and white flag in Abadam a week before, when they killed at least 40 civilians and forced hundreds in the farming community to flee across the border into Niger, according to some residents who escaped to Maiduguri, 125 miles to the east.

Also last week, a car bomb exploded in a bus station in Azare, a town in north-central Bauchi state. Five people were killed and 12 hospitalized with injuries, according to police spokesman Deputy Superintendent Haruna Muhammad. No one claimed responsibility but suspicion immediately fell on Boko Haram, which in December 2011 bombed Azare's police station and several banks.

The continued fighting and abductions raise questions about the cease-fire. Ten days after the announcement, Boko Haram has yet to indicate that it has agreed to a truce.

Officials had said the cease-fire would lead to the speedy release of 219 girls kidnapped from a boarding school in the remote northeastern town of Chibok on April 15.

Abducted girls are subjected to horrific treatment, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a new report Monday, quoting escapees who described forced marriages, rapes, forced conversions to Islam, forced labor and forced participation in attacks.

The insurgents mainly target Christians and girls who go to school, said Human Rights Watch. Boko Haram, which means Western education is bad, opposes what it calls Western influences in Nigerian society.

Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 500 girls and women since 2009, according to an estimate by HRW. Unknown scores of young men have also been kidnapped and forced to join the armed group as fighters.

Boko Haram leader Shekau said in a video statement last year that his group kidnaps girls and young women because Nigeria’s military is holding members of Boko Haram families. Nigeria's military and police routinely detain family members of wanted people, even though it is illegal, according to rights groups.

"Since you are now holding our women, just wait and see what will happen to your own women," Shekau threatened.

One of Shekau's wives was among several women and children freed from detention last year during failed peace negotiations.

The Associated Press

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