Sunday, February 26, 2012

Borno residents cry…‘JTF/Boko Haram war strangling us’

Weekly Trust
25 February 2012

As civilian casualties continue to mount in the battle between the JTF and Boko Haram insurgents, Borno residents cry of extra-judicial killings
As the battle between the Joint Task Force (JTF) and the Boko Haram sect heightens without any clear resolution, residents of Borno State where the battle has been hard-fought are caught in the middle, between soldiers who are angry with them for not providing enough information about sect members and the sect which is unforgiving towards those who cooperate with authorities and divulge information about their members.

The battle between the JTF and the militant Boko Haram sect is also being fought not only with guns but with propaganda aimed at winning the minds of the people as to who is winning or losing and who is responsible for the needless massacres of civilians recorded almost daily as soldiers and sect members engage with each other in the streets and market places.

These dimensions to the battle became glaring in the recent attack staged by the sect members against traders who arrested and handed over a sect member to the JTF in Maiduguri’s Baga Market, but where the JTF quickly intervened with several civilian casualties recorded.

About twenty people were killed at the Baga Market and the immediate cause of the attack was the incidence of Thursday 16th February, 2011 when some traders and buyers in the market summoned courage and pinned down a suspected member of the Boko Haram who was pulling out an AK47 from inside his gown. The traders later handed over the suspect to operatives of the JTF.
Enraged by the action of the traders, the Boko Haram assailants descended on the market four days after and mercilessly killed many people. On that fateful day, some traders who witnessed the onslaught at the market said about five explosives went off at Jajeri, a ramshackle settlement behind the market and another one inside the market, close to where the Boko Haram member was apprehended. And while attempting to repel the attack, operatives of the JTF stormed the market and engaged members of the Boko Haram in a shootout. Expectedly, many people were killed in the process.

While some people saw what the military did as gallant, many others blamed them for using excessive force, occasioned by killing of many civilians and bystanders as well as the extra-judicial killing of Boko Haram members who would have been captured alive.

Those who saw what happened at the market noted that it will be difficult to strike a balance on what actually happened, whether it was Boko Haram members who shot innocent civilians while exchanging gunfire with the military or whether it was the JTF in the course of arresting the sect’s attack.

Security experts say that is the more reason why the JTF must work hard to introduce a rule of engagement that will differentiate it from the sect members. Thus far, experts say, the people are finding it hard to make that distinction.

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