Boko Haram 'ceasefire' in doubt after attacks

Maiduguri - Nigerian military and intelligence officials raised doubts on Sunday about the validity of a ceasefire with Boko Haram, with reports of fresh attacks and fighting in the country's northeast.

The chief of defence staff and a senior presidential aide announced on Friday that agreement had been reached to end hostilities and secure the possible release of more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls.

Air Marshal Alex Badeh said he had instructed all armed forces' chiefs to ensure the "immediate compliance" with the development.

But a senior army officer in the violence-wracked northeast, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "Honestly, we are yet to receive any operational order on the ceasefire.

"As such, we are battle-ready and would confront the terrorists if we see them."

A senior intelligence official in the region also indicated to AFP that he had not received word about the purported ceasefire.

On Sunday evening, troops from the 7th Division of the Nigerian Army fought dozens of suspected members of Boko Haram in the town of Damboa in Borno state, witnesses and security sources said.

Earlier, a group of insurgents attacked the Borno town of Sabon Gida, said one military officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

"The fight was tough and it seems the insurgents wanted to destroy everything in Sabon Gida. They came around 17:00 (1600 GMT) and by 18:00, the fight was over," added local trader Bilyaminu Aliyu.

Boko Haram took over Damboa, which is about 90km southwest of the Borno state capital Maiduguri, in July, destroying much of the town and forcing thousands to flee.

The group's leader Abubakar Shekau claimed that they left voluntarily but the military said they recaptured it in early August. Residents have since begun returning.

Attacks, abductions

Elsewhere, locals said that dozens of suspected Boko Haram gunmen had stormed the town of Abadam, north of Maiduguri near Lake Chad, on Thursday, before the supposed ceasefire.

A number of residents said at least 30 people were killed on Thursday and Friday - after the purported deal - while hundreds of others were forced to flee across the border into neighbouring Niger.

"We all heard of the ceasefire over the radio but it seems the insurgents are not perturbed at all," another resident, Mallam Babagana, said on Sunday.

"To me, they [the militants] don't even care about it because they increased their attacks from Friday, the very day the ceasefire was announced. By Saturday, they hoisted their flags."

Meanwhile, Enoch Mark, whose daughter and niece are among the 219 schoolgirls who have been held by Boko Haram since mid-April, said there had been another attack in neighbouring Adamawa state.

He said the attack, in the village of Wagga on Saturday, saw some 40 women abducted - an established Boko Haram tactic in its bloody five-year insurgency.

On Friday, eight people were also killed on a road in the Borno state village of Shaffa near where a prominent Muslim leader, the Emir of Gwoza, was ambushed and killed by Boko Haram fighters in May.

Babagana said local hunters on their way to recover the bodies of the eight fought battles with militants on Saturday in Azul, also in the Hawul local government area.

"The unrelenting terrorists waylaid our members at around 09:00 and serious fighting ensued," said Babagana, who heads a local vigilante group.

"We lost four of our members and we killed three terrorists."

Independent corroboration of attacks in the remote northeast are almost impossible, with communications devastated by the violence and access fraught with danger.

The police and the military have largely stopped communicating on attacks.

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