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Nigeria’s military accuses UNICEF of training ‘spies’ for Boko Haram

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A banner with the UNICEF logo is seen hanging on a makeshift school at an Internally-Displaced Persons (IDP) camp on the outskirts of Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria, on June 6, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

The Nigerian military has suspended the activities of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in the African country’s ravaged northeast, claiming that the staff of the agency has purportedly been spying for the Takfiri Boko Haram terrorist group.

In a statement on Friday, the military said that UNICEF had held workshops in the northeast city of Maiduguri on December 12 and 13 training people for “clandestine” activities that are “sabotaging” counter-terrorism operations conducted by the army against the terror group.

It further claimed that the agency had been training people to sabotage the anti-terror efforts “through spurious and unconfirmed allegations” of human rights abuses committed by the Nigerian troops.

Since 2009, terrorists of the Boko Haram outfit have killed at least 27,000 people and made over 2.6 million others homeless. In 2015, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group, which is mainly active in the Middle East.

The Nigerian army carried out multiple operations against the terror group last year and inflicted a series of major defeats against it and even cleared vast swaths of land once under the control of terrorists. However, Takfiri militants persist as a main security issue in the country, triggering a humanitarian crisis in the wider Lake Chad region.

Attacks by the once-weakened Boko Haram group seem to have gained momentum in the country's northeast in 2018, pushing into towns and villages in the restive Borno and Yobe states northeast of the country it had previously lost to the Nigerian military. Maiduguri is the capital city of Borno.

“There is credible information that some of them are indulging in unwholesome practices that could further jeopardize the fight against terrorism and insurgency, as they train and deploy spies who support the insurgents and their sympathizers,” said the press release signed by Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu.

 “Consequently, the Theatre Command Operation LAFIYA DOLE is suspending the operations of UNICEF in the North East theatre until further notice,” he added.

Boko Haram's brutal militancy in northeastern Nigeria has also spread to neighboring countries such as Cameroon, Chad and Niger, leaving 1.8 million people homeless and millions dependent on aid for survival.

UNICEF had “abdicated its primary duty of catering for the wellbeing of children and the vulnerable ... and now engaged in training selected persons for clandestine activities to continue sabotaging the counter terrorism and counter insurgency efforts of troops through spurious and unconfirmed allegations ... on alleged violations of human rights by the military,” Nwachukwu further alleged.

Shortly after the statement, an unnamed UNICEF spokeswoman told Reuters that the organization was working to verify the information.

Some human rights organization groups have accused the Nigerian military of committing human rights violations and war crimes and killing civilians during its raids against positions held by the terror group, prompting the army to threaten to take legal action against such organizations and groups for publishing unofficial death tolls.

The Nigerian army strongly dismisses the allegations.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International denounced the suspension and called on Nigeria to reverse the decision, describing the military’s allegation against UNICEF as “an absurd charge.”

"We see the suspension of UNICEF as part of a wider drive to intimidate international humanitarian and human rights organizations who are working to save lives in this devastating conflict,” said Amnesty's Nigeria director Osai Ojigho.

She also noted that the suspension would in fact “deprive those whose lives have been devastated by the Boko Haram conflict from receiving much-needed humanitarian assistance.”

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