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Nigeria army frees hundreds of cleared 'Boko Haram' suspects

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Maiduguri (Nigeria) (AFP)

Nigeria's army on Wednesday released nearly 1,000 detainees, some of whom had been held for years, after clearing them of having links to the Boko Haram jihadist group.

A total of 983 people incarcerated in a military facility in the northeast city of Maiduguri were handed over to civilian officials for "rehabilitation and integration".

Commander Olusegun Adeniyi said at a ceremony that those released had been "screened, investigated and cleared".

The freed inmates, including five women, were handed over to the Borno state governor Babagana Umara Zulum at Giwa military barracks in the city.

Zulum said those released were not Boko Haram jihadists but suspects who "after due diligence and investigation" were "cleared of the offenses they were accused of committing".

Rights groups have accused the military of indiscriminate mass arrests of innocent citizens during the decade-long fight against the jihadist insurgency in northeast Nigeria.

Activists have criticised conditions inside the detention centres as overcrowded and unsanitary and alleged some detainees have been tortured or even summarily executed.

The release on Wednesday represented one of the single biggest batches of detainees to be freed by the military in one go.

Ibrahim Usman, one of those released, said he was arrested on the streets on suspicion of being a Boko Haram member when he failed to provide valid identification to soldiers at a checkpoint.

"I was never a member of Boko Haram but I spent four years in detention," Usman told reporters at the ceremony.

In October the army freed 25 children from detention after Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a damning report accusing the military of abuse and torture of detained children.

The conflict in northeast Nigeria has killed 35,000 people and displaced two million from their homes.

The violence has spilt into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional coalition to fight the jihadists.

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