A radical Islamist sect behind almost daily attacks in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno said it would not open dialogue with the government until the military withdrew from the region.
Thousands fled the northeastern city of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno, this week and the local university was shut after clashes between Boko Haram and the security forces.
The sect, which says it wants a wider application of sharia Islamic law across Africa’s most populous nation, has claimed responsibility for the killings of police officers and attacks on churches and drinking places in recent months, Reuters reports.
Abu Zaid, a spokesman for Boko Haram, said in a phone conference with the local press on Wednesday, “All soldiers deployed to Borno as part of the Joint Task Force must be withdrawn before any dialogue could be opened with government.”
He said 19 members of the sect had been killed in recent clashes with the military. He also warned journalists to be neutral in their reporting or they would be treated as saboteurs.
Boko Haram’s statement came 24 hours after Borno state elders, who include former government ministers and police officers, called on the JTF to withdraw from Maiduguri, saying its siege of Boko Haram was causing more harm than good.
“Borno elders have demanded the immediate withdrawal of all soldiers on the streets of Maiduguri because the soldiers have been burning down houses, killing innocent people and looting private property,” a statement from the elders said.
The military has denied accusations it is using unnecessary force.
The streets of Maiduguri have been silenced this week as residents abandoned their homes to seek safety in the countryside and distant cities.
Bomb blasts in the north have replaced militant attacks on oil facilities hundreds of kilometres (miles) way in the southern Niger Delta as the main security threat in Nigeria. The United States and European Union have condemned the violence.
Boko Haram strikes have spread farther afield in recent months, including a bomb in the car park of national police headquarters in the capital, Abuja, last month.