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Isaac Abrak & Emma Ande
04 May 2015 14:31
A photograph from the Nigerian army on April 30 shows a group of children rescued in an operation against the Islamist group Boko Haram. (AFP)
Boko Haram fighters killed
older boys and men in front of their families before taking women and children
into the forest where many died of hunger and disease, freed captives said on
Sunday after they were brought to a government refugee camp.
The Nigerian army rescued
hundreds of women and children last week from the Islamist fighters in northern
Nigeria’s Sambisa Forest in a major operation that has turned international
attention to the plight of hostages.
After days on the road in trucks, hundreds were released on Sunday into the care of authorities at
a refugee camp in the eastern town of Yola, to be fed and treated for injuries.
They spoke to reporters for the first time.
“They didn’t allow us
to move an inch,” said one of the freed women, Asabe Umaru, describing her
captivity. “If you needed the toilet, they followed you.
We were kept in
“We thank God to be
alive today. We thank the Nigerian army for saving our lives,” she added.
Two hundred and
seventy-five women and children, some with heads or limbs in bandages, arrived
in the camp late on Saturday.
Nearly 700 kidnap victims
have been freed from the Islamist group’s forest stronghold since Tuesday, with
the latest group of 234 women and children liberated on Friday.
“When we saw the
soldiers we raised our hands and shouted for help. Boko Haram who were guarding
us started stoning us so we would follow them to another hideout, but we refused
because we were sure the soldiers would rescue us,” said Umaru, a 24
year-old mother of two.
The prisoners suffered
malnutrition and disease, she said. “Every day we witnessed the death of
one of us and waited for our turn.”
Another freed captive,
Cecilia Abel, said her husband and first son had been killed in her presence
before the militia forced her and her remaining eight children into the forest.
For two weeks before the
military arrived she had barely eaten.
“We were fed only
ground dry maize in the afternoons. It was not good for human
consumption,” she said. “Many of us that were captured died in
Sambisa Forest. Even after our rescue about 10 died on our way to this
freed prisoners were fed bread and mugs of tea as soon as they arrived at the
government camp. Nineteen were in hospital for special attention, Dr Mohammed
Aminu Suleiman of the Adamawa State Emergency Management Agency told Reuters.
The army said troops on
patrol on Saturday had discovered 260 women and children in Adamawa state. Some
had fled their homes during fighting while others had been abducted but managed
to escape from the Islamists.
The military also said in a
statement it had arrested a supplier of food and fuel to Boko Haram on Sunday morning.
estimates the insurgents, who are intent on bringing western Africa under
Islamist rule, have taken more than 2 000 women and girls captive since the
start of 2014. Many have been used as cooks, sex slaves or human shields.
The prisoners freed so far
do not appear to include any of more than 200 schoolgirls snatched from school
dormitories in Chibok town a year ago, an incident that drew global attention
to the six-year-old insurgency.
Umaru said her group of
prisoners never came in contact with the missing Chibok girls.
Nigerian troops alongside
armies from neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger have won back swathes of
territory from the fighters in the last couple of months.
Last year, the group
exerted influence over an area bigger than Belgium. But a counterattack launched
in January has pushed them into Sambisa, a nature reserve. While the Nigerian
army is confident it has the group cornered, a final push to clear them from
the area has been curtailed by landmines.
Jonathan, who relinquishes power later in May after his election defeat to
Muhammadu Buhari, has promised to hand over a Nigeria “free of terrorist
Rampant corruption and a
failure to stamp out the uprising in the north were factors that cost Jonathan
the election won by Buhari, a former military ruler. - Reuters
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