ASHIGASHIYA, Cameroon — At least 20,000 refugees have fled to Cameroon from northeast Nigerian villages that have become hideouts for Islamic militants, a Nigerian lawmaker said.
A community leader said people also fled attacks by the Nigerian military – a charge in line with reports by human rights groups that security forces sent to fight the militants are indiscriminately killing civilians.
Sadiqui Ali said civilians were among 13 suspected extremists killed by the military in two villages in the Gwoza hills on June 15.
Col. Danladi Hassan came to reassure villagers that no soldier would kill anyone unlawfully, he said.
But five days later "we woke up with the sound of gunshots everywhere, which resulted in the killings of 8 persons (civilians)," he charged. Ali was speaking to Nigerian officials who Tuesday visited refugees camped near Ashigashiya town and two other camps in northern Cameroon.
Refugee Suleiman Dalhatu told The Associated Press that he fled because Christians settling scores with Muslims had put his name on a list of suspected extremists given to the military. His claim was vigorously denied by Christians among the refugees.
Religious tensions are rising among refugees and those who remain in northeast Nigeria, where the government declared a state of emergency covering one-sixth of the country last month, admitting militants of the Boko Haram extremist sect had taken control of villages and some towns.
Deputy Gov. Zannah Umar Mustapha of Borno state, where the refugees are from, pleaded with them to return home, saying the government was making necessary arrangements to ensure their safety.
None appeared convinced that the government could protect them. Civilians say they are terrified of both the extremists and the troops sent to put down the insurgency.
Officials have warned of imminent food shortages because farmers have been driven from their field by the militants or are prevented from reaching them by military roadblocks.
This week, the government announced it has released 25,000 metric tons from the nation's strategic grain reserve to be given to people in the area under a military emergency.
It said the food, comprising more than half a million bags of corn and millet, would be released in batches.
Islamic militants have killed more than 1,600 people since 2010, according to an AP count. Soldiers are accused of killing hundreds more, a charge the military denies.