Lagos – Amnesty International on Friday called for an investigation into the alleged burning of villages by Nigerian troops in the volatile northeast following a recent surge in jihadist attacks.
The rights group said its report was based on interviews with villagers in Borno state and satellite data analysis of the incidents.
It said troops razed three villages along a key road leading to regional capital Maiduguri after forcibly evicting hundreds of residents from their homes on January 3 and 4.
"These brazen acts of razing entire villages, deliberately destroying civilian homes and forcibly displacing their inhabitants with no imperative military grounds, should be investigated as possible war crimes," said Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria.
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"They repeat a longstanding pattern of the Nigerian military meting out brutal tactics against the civilian population," he said.
Amnesty said it spoke to 12 women and men forced to flee their homes from the villages near the Maiduguri-Damaturu road.
They said hundreds of inhabitants were loaded onto trucks by the military and taken to a camp for displaced people in Maiduguri.
The rights group said soldiers arbitrarily detained six men from one of the villages and held them incommunicado for almost a month.
Rights abuses, extrajudicial executions
There has been a sharp increase in jihadist violence in the northeast over recent months, with the road linking to Maiduguri a major focus of attacks since December.
The army said in a statement carried by local media on January 5 that it had arrested six Boko Haram suspects and rescued 461 captives "from the clutches of the criminal insurgents" during an operation in the villages.
The military and central government have come under increasing pressure to halt the rising bloodshed, especially after at least 30 people were killed in an attack targeting motorists in a village along the route over the weekend.
Local and international bodies have repeatedly accused the Nigerian military of rights abuses, including arbitrary detention and extrajudicial executions.
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Prosecutors from the International Criminal Court (ICC) have conducted preliminary examinations of the situation in northeast Nigeria but are yet to open a full investigation.
The military has denied the charges of abuses and insists the insurgents have been largely defeated.
The decade-long uprising has killed 36 000 people and displaced almost two million in northeast Nigeria.
The jihadists have splintered into rival camps with one loyal to long-time Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and the other aligned with the Islamic State group (ISIS).