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Nigeria accuses UNICEF staff of spying for Islamist militants, suspends activities

It said UNICEF had been training people to sabotage troops` counter-insurgency efforts by uncovering the military`s alleged human rights abuses.

Nigeria accuses UNICEF staff of spying for Islamist militants, suspends activities

MAIDUGURI: The Nigerian military on Friday accused United Nations Children`s Fund (UNICEF) staff of spying for Islamist militants in northeast Nigeria, and suspended the agency`s activities there. It said UNICEF had been training people to sabotage troops` counter-insurgency efforts by uncovering the military`s alleged human rights abuses.

The northeast has been torn apart by a decade-long insurgency by Boko Haram and its splinter group Islamic State West Africa, in which more than 30,000 people have been killed and many more driven from their homes.

In its statement, the Nigerian military said UNICEF staff "train and deploy spies who support the insurgents and their sympathisers". These were "unwholesome practices that could further jeopardise the fight against terrorism and insurgency". It said UNICEF`s operations were being suspended in the northeast until further notice.

"We are verifying the information now and will get back to you with any new information," a UNICEF spokeswoman told Reuters. The military said UNICEF had "abdicated its primary duty of catering for the wellbeing of children and the vulnerable ... and now engaged in training selected persons for clandestine activities to continue sabotaging the counter terrorism and counter insurgency efforts of troops through spurious and unconfirmed allegations ... on alleged violations of human rights by the military".

"The organization commenced the said training on Wednesday 12 December 2018 at the Ministry of Finance Conference Hall, Musa Usman Secretariat, Maiduguri and ended on 13 Thursday December 2018," it added, referring to the capital of the northeastern state of Borno. 

With millions displaced, Nigeria`s northeast is largely dependent on international aid.

In April, Nigeria`s military declared three UNICEF employees "persona non grata", in connection with alleged leaks of information about soldiers sexually abusing children in the northeast, people familiar with the matter told Reuters. The declaration was rescinded days later after pressure from diplomats, the sources said. Nigeria`s military is highly sensitive to allegations of human rights abuses.