A top Nigerian official says that Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of civilians, including many children, and is using them as human shields.
Mike Omeri, the Nigerian spokesman for the fight against Boko Haram, told The Associated Press that several hundred people were abducted by the armed group as it retreated earlier this month from Damasak in northeastern Nigeria. He said he could not specify how many were kidnapped but local reports say as many as 500 people were taken.
Omeri said Tuesday the rebels went to Damasak's primary schools and rounded up students and teachers and then retreated.
Troops from Chad and Niger recaptured Damasak, near the border with Niger, from Boko Haram on March 16. The mass kidnapping happened as the fighters were fleeing the advancing troops and information about the abductions has only been confirmed now.
Cameroon is on the front line in the battle against Nigeria's Boko Haram and needs international assistance to support thousands who have fled the armed group and military operations against them, the head of the U.N. refugee agency said Wednesday.
Violence in northeastern Nigeria, where Boko Haram has seized dozens of towns, has forced some 74,000 people to flee to neighboring Cameroon, according to the agency. Over 100,000 more have flooded into Chad and Niger. Troops from the three countries are now helping Nigeria to combat the militants and win back the towns.
While visiting Maroua, the capital of Cameroon's Far North region, on Wednesday, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said the refugee agency would funnel more resources to Cameroon. But he stressed that the international community needed to help as well.
"Cameroon is today not only a very important protection space for refugees, but it is in the first line of defense of the international community," he said.
The U.N. agency says the crisis is one of the most underfunded in the world. In February, the agency asked for $71 million to assist displaced people in Nigeria and the neighboring countries; already that figure appears to be too low, it said this week.
Thus far, it has received only $6.8 million in donations, he said.
The Associated Press