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Conflicting reports on Boko Haram attack death toll

The Nigerian military says 150 people were killed while other reports claim 2,000 were killed.

FILE: The leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - Nigeria's military said on Monday that at least 150 people had been killed in clashes with Islamists in the north eastern town of Baga, giving a rare official death toll a few weeks before presidential elections in which security is a big issue.

Defence spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade was reacting to reports that some 2,000 had been killed by Boko Haram insurgents who took control of Baga and the surrounding area 10 days ago.

The military is fighting to reclaim it.

Scores of civilians were killed when the militants, who are fighting to establish an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, raided Baga and a nearby military base. The base is also the headquarters of a multinational force with troops from Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

Witnesses who escaped to neighbouring towns and Borno state capital Maiduguri said the insurgents razed buildings and homes and killed dozens of civilians in subsequent raids last week.

Thousands of refugees have fled Baga to neighbouring Chad or been displaced within Nigeria.

"Terrible atrocities have been committed against innocent Nigerians in Baga by the rampaging terrorists who attacked and have been operating in the town since 3 January," Olukolade said at a news conference.

"From all available evidence, the number of people who lost their lives during that attack has so far not exceeded about 150 ... including ... terrorists who were bearing arms and got killed in the course of ... battle with troops."

The military has a habit of understating death tolls, while local politicians tend to overstate them.

"Many residents have left, leaving the population in the town almost seriously depleted," Olukolade said.

Boko Haram has killed thousands in a five-year-old rebellion which is seen as the biggest security threat to Africa's top oil producer and is a headache for President Goodluck Jonathan ahead of what is likely to be a closely fought vote on 14 February.

A southern Christian, he faces Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim and former military ruler regarded as tough on security.

143 BOKO HARAM FIGHTERS KILLED IN CAMEROON

At least 143 Boko Haram fighters were killed in an attack on a military camp in Cameroon on Monday, a minister said, adding that it was the heaviest loss sustained by the Nigerian Islamist group in the country.

"The terrorists ... lost 143 lives and important warfare equipment made up of assault rifles of various brands, heavy weapons and bullets of all calibres," Minister of Communications Issa Tchiroma Bakary said in a statement.

"On the Cameroon side, we lost one life, the Corporal-Chef Bela Onana, as well as four wounded."

It was not immediately possible to independently verify the toll from the fighting near the northern town of Kolofata.

Cameroon's army determines death tolls either visually, or by counting the number of vehicles it destroys and estimating how many militants each vehicle carried, a senior official in Cameroon's Far North region told Reuters last month.

Boko Haram, which has killed thousands in its bid to carve out an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, had also targeted Cameroon over the past year.

Earlier this month, a man claiming to be the leader of the group threatened to step up violence in Cameroon unless it scraps its constitution and embraces Islam.