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Published: Friday January 10, 2014 MYT 12:20:01 AM
Updated: Friday January 10, 2014 MYT 12:21:00 AM

Nigerian army says kills 38 Islamists in northeast

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigerian troops killed 38 Islamist militants and lost one soldier on Thursday when they repelled an attack by Boko Haram insurgents on a military camp in the northeast, the army said.

President Goodluck Jonathan is struggling to end a four and a half year insurgency by Islamist sect Boko Haram, a group with ties to al Qaeda which wants to create an Islamic state in Africa's second largest economy and top oil producer.

The official figures could not be immediately verified. The military often reports big casualties in gun battles with Boko Haram fighters but rarely admits any significant losses among its own troops or civilians.

The statement said gunmen launched the attack on a military camp and residential area at around 1:00 a.m. (2400 GMT) in the town of Damboa in Borno state, a remote northeastern region where Boko Haram launched its uprising in 2009.

"The attack was repelled," Army spokesman Colonel Muhammadu Dole said. "While the encounter lasted 38 Boko Haram terrorists were killed and some fled with various degrees of injuries."

Dole said the military recovered three vehicles, improvised explosive devices and high calibre ammunition.

President Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northeast in May last year, which was supposed to last six-months but was extended as the intensified military campaign failed to end the violence or curb the mounting death toll.

The operation has apparently limited most of the violence to the northeast, so far keeping cities previously targeted by Islamists like Kano and the capital Abuja - both Boko Haram targets in the past - relatively calm.

(Reporting by Ibrahim Mshelizza; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Tim Cocks and Alister Doyle)

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