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Nigerian troops on new offensive

President Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency in the northeast of the country.

Nigerian President Goodluck Johnathan. Picture: AFP.

MAIDIGURI - Nigeria launched a military campaign on Wednesday to flush Islamist militants out of their bases in remote border areas, after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northeast.

Nigerian troops deployed in large numbers, part of a plan to rout an insurgency by the Boko Haram Islamist group that has seized control of parts of the region.

"The operations, which will involve massive deployment of men and resources, are aimed at asserting the nation's territorial integrity," Defence Headquarters said in a statement.

The campaign targets semi-desert areas of the three states in which Jonathan declared an emergency on Tuesday - Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, three of the poorest and most remote in the country.

The Islamist insurgency has cost thousands of lives and destabilised Africa's top energy producer since it began in 2009, but it has mostly happened far from economic centres such as Lagos. The capital Abuja was however bombed in 2011 and 2012.

It has not affected southern oil fields that provide the bulk of government revenues in Africa's second biggest economy.

Residents and Reuters reporters saw army trucks carrying soldiers enter Yola and Maiduguri to seek out militants from Boko Haram, whose rebellion has targeted the security forces, Christians and politicians in the mainly Muslim north.

The troop deployment is likely to placate some of Jonathan's critics, who had accused him of not facing up to the gravity of the crisis, although some northern politicians have already voiced concerns over rising tensions.

It is unlikely those tensions will boil over to the other parts of the country. The Islamists have a foothold across most of the north, but nothing like the power base they have established in these three states.

In December 2011, Jonathan declared a state of emergency over some local government areas, after a church bombing blamed on Boko Haram killed 37 people, but he lifted it in July 2012.

Ayo Oritsejafor, head of the powerful Christian Association of Nigeria, said the move showed Jonathan's plan to offer the rebels an amnesty had been misguided, saying "no reasonable agreement can be reached with terrorists."