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Nigeria - sectarian violence

Islamist fighters flee as army seizes base

Article published on the 2009-07-30 Latest update 2009-07-30 08:35 TU

Nigerian police inspect the body of an alleged self-styled Nigerian Taliban, who was killed Wednesday.(Photo: AFP)

Nigerian police inspect the body of an alleged self-styled Nigerian Taliban, who was killed Wednesday.
(Photo: AFP)

Islamist fundamentalists have fled the northern city of Maiduguri after the military overran their base. The news came hours after the army announced another 1,000 soldiers had been sent in to reinforce troops battling sect members after four days of deadly clashes.

"We have taken over their enclave, they are on the run and we are going after them," said operation commander Colonel Ben Ahonotu.

Residents of Customs Bridge suburb neighbouring the group's Bayan Quarters enclave said they had seen a convoy of the fighters fleeing their area.

Earlier Wednesday, the army had boosted its numbers in Maiduguri, where Boko Haram rebels have been fighting security forces since Sunday. President Umaru Yar'Adua had ordered the armed forces to crush the movement "once and for all".

The soldiers were flown in from Calabar, the capital city of Cross River, one of Nigeria's southern oil-producing states. Wednesday's fighting concentrated on enclaves of Maiduguri believed to house the sect's leader Mohammed Yusuf.

The death toll from the clashes has already surged past 300 and thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes to escape the violence.

Fresh clashes were also reported elsewhere, including Yobe state where police said 43 people were killed Wednesday as troops hunted down militants in the forests.

Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, has seen the worst of the unrest in northern Nigeria, but the clashes first erupted on Sunday in Bauchi state when militants launched an attack on a police station.

The unrest is the deadliest in Nigeria since November last year when human rights groups say up to 700 were killed in the central city of Jos in direct clashes between Muslims and Christians.

Although northern Nigeria is mainly Muslim, large Christian minorities have settled in the main towns, raising tensions between the two groups.

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