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Red Cross vow to continue aid after workers killed in northeast Nigeria

By Kieran Guilbert

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The International Red Cross (ICRC) vowed on Tuesday to continue delivering aid in northeast Nigeria after about six of its workers were among an estimated 50 people killed in a botched attack on a refugee camp in Islamist militants' heartland.

The Nigerian government said the air force bombing of the camp in Rann in Borno state, the heart of the Boko Haram's seven-year-old bid to create an Islamic caliphate, was a "regrettable operational mistake".

Regional military commander General Lucky Irabor said it was too early to determine the cause of the error, adding that aid workers from the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)and the ICRC were injured.

MSF said at least 52 people were killed and 120 were wounded.

An ICRC spokeswoman said six Nigerian Red Cross members were killed and 13 were injured but the strike would not affect their aid work in the region.

"We remain committed to delivering desperately needed aid to conflict-affected populations in the northeast," Aleksandra Mosimann of the ICRC told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Thoughts with families of our colleagues who have lost their loved ones."

The ICRC said it was coordinating medical emergency efforts with the authorities and other aid agencies, and MSF said its teams in Cameroon and Chad were ready to treat wounded patients.

"We will now engage with the Nigerian military to ensure these horrific attacks do not occur again," Hugues Robert, MSF's Nigeria program manager told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"While we can take many steps to mitigate risk, we cannot prepare for an aerial bombing from the national military of the country in which we work ... particularly in a place they fully control and are aware of our presence."

Every year aid workers die in the line of duty with the ICRC dedicating Dec. 17 as a day to remember colleagues who have lost their lives.

The Aid Workers Security Database says 109 aid workers were killed in 25 countries in 2015, with the conflict-affected countries of Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen making up the bulk of attacks on civilian aid operations.

Boko Haram's insurgency has killed about 15,000 people and forced more than two million to flee their homes.

But the group has been pushed out from most of the territory it held in 2015 by the Nigerian military, with help from neighboring countries.

Boko Haram has stepped up attacks in the past few weeks as the end of the rainy season allow movements in the bush amid an offensive against the group by Nigeria's military.

President Muhammadu Buhari expressed regret about Tuesday's accidental bombing that was meant to be an attack on Boko Haram fighters.

"I sympathize with the families of the dead, and with the injured, and the Government and people of Borno State," Buhari said in a message on Twitter.

(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Lanre Ola and Alexis Akwagyiram, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

 
 
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