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Deadly Nigeria air strike hit densely populated areas, says rights group

LAGOS (Reuters) - A Nigerian air strike that killed more than 70 people and wounded at least 120 in a refugee camp hit areas of a town that were densely populated, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday, citing reviews of satellite images.

The New York-based group said the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) should have known the area targeted was filled with civilians. The NAF declined to comment and said it was studying the report.

Tuesday's accidental air strike hit Rann in Borno state, the epicenter of Boko Haram's seven-year-long attempt to create an Islamic caliphate in the northeast. Nine aid workers were among the dead.

At least 35 structures, including shelters for people who had fled the conflict with Boko Haram, were destroyed in the attack, Human Rights Watch's statement said.

"The presence of what appears to be a large Nigerian military compound on the edge of town, 100 meters from one of the impact sites, raises further questions," said the group.

"The military would have been expected to know that the area was filled with civilians and to take adequate precautions not to harm them during any operation targeting Boko Haram fighters who might have been in the area."

The NAF has said civilians were accidentally killed and wounded in the attack, which was aimed at the jihadist group, but neither it nor the government has provided an official figure for the number of casualties.

The NAF said in a statement earlier on Thursday it would form a board of senior officers to investigate the air strike and prevent similar future accidents. The board aims for the report to be submitted no later than Feb. 2.

Human Rights Watch said the bombing could violate international humanitarian law, because, while not intentional, it may have been indiscriminate.

The strike followed a military offensive against Boko Haram in the last few weeks.

The group's insurgency has killed more than 15,000 people since 2009 and forced some two million to flee their homes, many of whom have moved to camps for internally displaced people.

(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Additional reporting by Tife Owolabi in Yenagoa; Writing by Paul Carsten; editing by Ralph Boulton)

 

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