Nigerian jet attacks refugee camp, killing dozens

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Nigerian Air Force jet fighter mistook refugees for rebels yesterday, Nigerian military said, firing on a camp in Rann, Borno State. Dozens of refugees and aid workers died.

File photo of a refugee camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria.
Image: Voice of America.

The lowest estimate from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is of 50 dead. The BBC estimates at least 52 dead, while one Borno State official is attributed by AP as saying over 100 are dead. MSF say at least 200 were wounded.

The Red Cross said at least six of its staff died and twelve more injured. The impoverished region, in the northeast of the nation, has suffered severe famine as conflict interrupts agriculture. Farmers are unable to work owing to bombs on their land. The Red Cross said volunteers were at the camp, home to thousands, to distribute food.

The military said the Air Force was dispatched to deal with "remnants" of the Boko Haram militant group, which it claims to be in a final push against. Major General Leo Irabor, who led the operation, said, "Unfortunately, the strike was conducted but it turned out that other civilians were somewhere around the area and they were affected". Irabor said two soldiers were amongst the dead and others were wounded.

Military spokesman General Rabe Abubakar said the military are "all in pain" after the disaster, adding "in a military operation such as this, from time to time these things do occur." Irabor promised an investigation. President Muhammadu Buhari said he was saddened by "this regrettable operational mistake" and sought calm.

"This large-scale attack on vulnerable people who have already fled from extreme violence is shocking and unacceptable," MSF operational chief Dr Jean-Clément Cabrol said. The Red Cross said it has staff and facilities ready in neighbouring Cameroon and Chad to assist. "The whole camp is controlled by the army and no one can come in or out without being checked," said MSF head of emergencies Hugues Robert. Robert added the group knew travel and work in the area was dangerous, and took precautions.

Helicopters have been evacuating the wounded, including a United Nations helicopter which brought four medical personnel and 400kg (900lb) of emergency medical aid, and left with eight wounded Red Cross workers. The UN is in the midst of an appeal for aid to the famine-hit region.

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