LAGOS (Nigeria) • A spurt in attacks by Boko Haram Islamists has claimed nearly 400 lives since April in Nigeria and Cameroon, double the figure of the previous five months, said Amnesty.
The increasing use of suicide bombers - often young women and girls forced to carry and detonate explosives in crowded areas - has killed at least 381 civilians in the two countries, the rights group said in a statement yesterday.
"Boko Haram is once again committing war crimes on a huge scale, exemplified by the depravity of forcing young girls to carry explosives with the sole intention of killing as many people as they possibly can," said Amnesty International's director for West and Central Africa, Mr Alioune Tine.
The Nigerian military has repeatedly said that Boko Haram has been "defeated". But in recent months, the group has carried out a string of suicide bombings and other attacks on towns and an oil exploration team.
"Governments in Nigeria, Cameroon and beyond must take swift action to protect them from this campaign of terror," said Amnesty.
Amnesty said at least 223 civilians have died in Nigeria since April, adding that the real toll could be far higher. In the latest attack attributed to the militants, 18 people were killed in north-east Nigeria last Friday, according to local witnesses and officials.
Boko Haram is waging an insurgency in a bid to establish a hardline Islamist state in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north.
At least 20,000 people have been killed in violence since 2009 and more than 2.6 million people have been left homeless.
More than five million people are starving as the fighting has devastated farmland, leaving farmers unable to sow or cultivate crops for several years.
In neighbouring Cameroon, Amnesty said that since April at least 158 civilians have died in Boko Haram strikes, a figure four times higher than the preceding five months.
The deadliest attack took place in the town of Waza on July 12, when 16 civilians were killed and at least 34 injured after a young girl was forced to carry and detonate a bomb in a crowded video game centre.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS