Nigerian government denies 'fresh abduction' in Damasak town

A wall painted by Boko Haram is pictured in Damasak, Nigeria March 24, 2015. REUTERS/Joe Penney

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria’s government denied there had been an abduction of hundreds of people in the northeast town of Damasak after its recapture from Islamist jihadist group Boko Haram, the national information center said on Thursday.

Damasak residents said earlier this week that over 400 women and children had been rounded up and taken from the town by fleeing militants.

The town was recently liberated by Chadian and Nigerien troops pressing an offensive against Boko Haram.

Boko Haram abducted some 200 schoolgirls in April. Attempts to find them have so far proved fruitless and a vociferous global #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign has engendered strong criticism of President Goodluck Jonathan.

The Information Center said in a statement “there is no fresh abduction in Damasak” in Borno state, the heartland of a six-year insurgency; but it added it did not have figures for the number of missing people in the community.

Boko Haram has been trying to carve out an Islamic state in the country’s northeast and managed to take over an area the size of Belgium by the start of the year.

Nigerian forces and the foreign troops have driven the militants out of a string of towns in simultaneous offensives over the past month.

The government said all but three local government areas in Borno had been cleared of militants. Nigerians head to the polls on Saturday for general elections.

President Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party, which has dominated politics since the end of military rule in 1999, is hoping to be re-elected.

Reporting By Julia Payne; editing by Ralph Boulton