Amnesty says Nigeria security forces killed at least 115 in southeast this year

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FILE PHOTO: Burnt vehicles are seen outside the Nigeria police force Imo state command headquarters after gunmen attacked and set properties ablaze in Imo State

LAGOS (Reuters) - Security forces killed at least 115 people in southeast Nigeria this year and arbitrarily arrested or tortured scores of others, in response to violence from separatists agitating for autonomy, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

A Nigerian presidency spokesman declined to comment on the information set out in an Amnesty report. Police and army spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The report cited eyewitness accounts of "excessive use of force, physical abuse, secret detentions, extortion ... and extrajudicial executions of suspects" in response to attacks and killings of security forces that the government blames on banned separatist group the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its armed wing, the Eastern Security Network.

"The evidence gathered by Amnesty International paints a damning picture of ruthless excessive force by Nigerian security forces in Imo, Anambra and Abia states," said Osai Ojigho, Country Director at Amnesty International.

Some in the southeast have agitated for independence in the homeland of the Igbo ethnic group for years. An attempt to secede in 1967 sparked a three-year civil war that killed more than one million people.

This year, armed attackers have killed security operatives, razed police stations and attacked electoral offices in the southeast.

In June, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari warned that those who promote secession faced a "rude shock", and that government would "treat them in the language they understand."

Twitter removed the post for violating its abusive behaviour policy. For many, it raised fears of a crackdown on rising violence in the southeast.

Amnesty said it had documented at least 115 killings by security forces between March and June 2021, and 500 arrests after police and military raids.

Relatives of some of those killed said they were not part of the militant groups, Amnesty said. It also documented two businessmen, Uguchi Unachukwu and Mathew Opara, killed in May with "no apparent justification."

Amnesty called for an "impartial and open" inquiry into the violence.

Nnamdi Kanu, IPOB's current leader, was arrested abroad earlier this year and brought back to Nigeria to face 11 charges, including treason.

(Reporting by Libby George, additional reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja, Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe, Editing by William Maclean)

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