MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday he fully supported moves to expand facilities to reintegrate Islamist insurgents crossing into northeast Nigeria, as it was a key step in achieving peace in Africa’s most populous nation.
Nigeria has been fighting the Islamist group Boko Haram and its branch of the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) for more than a decade, in a conflict that has killed thousands and forced millions of people to flee their homes.
As part of efforts to end the conflict, the government is reintegrating combatants who voluntarily surrender.
Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum said at least 40,000 Boko Haram fighters and their families have surrendered to authorities since last year as the group reels from the death of its leader in early 2021 and that its rival ISWAP seeks to absorb them.
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António Guterres, who visited a camp housing surrendered fighters and another housing displaced people in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, later told a press conference that the integration would help achieve peace.
“The governor told me that you need to create new facilities to be able to effectively reintegrate these ex-terrorists, ex-combatants, and I promised that we would fully support this project,” said António Guterres.
“The best thing we can do for peace is to reintegrate those who, in a moment of desperation, became terrorists but now want to become citizens and contribute to the well-being of their brothers and sisters.”
The reintegration of fighters is creating tensions, particularly in Maiduguri, where weary citizens have borne the brunt of more than a decade of brutal Boko Haram attacks.
António Guterres called for continued humanitarian support to Borno, but added that ultimately people in the camps wanted to return home “in safety and dignity”.
The Borno state government began closing some camps for internally displaced people in December, citing improved security and the surrender of Boko Haram fighters, although aid groups say it is still not safe for people to return home. (This story refiles to correct first name in signature)
(Reporting by Seun Sanni in Maiduguri and Maiduguri Newsroom; Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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