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Babies dying in illegal Nigerian detentions, monitor says

LAGOS, Nigeria - Babies and children are among scores of people dying in military detention at a notorious Nigerian barracks where soldiers illegally hold suspected Islamic extremists, Amnesty International reported Wednesday.

Many detainees at the Giwa barracks may have died from disease, hunger, dehydration and gunshot wounds, the London-based human rights organization said, quoting witnesses, including former detainees, supported by video and photographic evidence. The barracks is in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, the birthplace of Nigeria's home-grown Boko Haram Islamic extremists. The city is now the headquarters for the Nigerian military's campaign against Boko Haram.

"The discovery that babies and young children have died in appalling conditions in military detention is both harrowing and horrifying," and comes despite repeated alarms over the high death rate of detainees in Giwa, said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty's advocacy director for Africa.

Amnesty has previously said that President Muhammadu Buhari has not kept promises he made days after his inauguration in May 2015 to investigate the alleged abuses at Giwa.

Military spokesman Brig Gen. Rabe Abubakar called Amnesty's report "a distraction."

"Our duty is to protect lives and that is what we have been doing," he told The Associated Press.

The Associated Pres reported in 2013 that some 3,000 detainees had died at Giwa in two months, according to mortuary records.

Today, detainee bodies are being buried in unmarked mass graves, Amnesty reported.

It called for Nigeria's government to shut the facility.

The report said 149 people, including 11 children under the age of 6, have died at Giwa this year. Among them were four babies who apparently died of untreated measles. Detaining children, with or without their parents, is common in Nigeria.

The number of people detained is unknown. Amnesty has reported that troops had arbitrarily arrested 20,000 people between 2013 and 2014.

A U.S. State Department report last month said Nigerian "security services perpetrated extrajudicial killings, and engaged in torture, rape, arbitrary detention ..." in 2015.

Such reports hamper aid to fight Boko Haram. The United States blocked sales of helicopter gunships to Nigeria in 2014 partly because of human rights concerns.

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