April 28, 2015 / 7:39 PM / in 3 years

More than 200 killed in Niger, Boko Haram weekend battle

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Around 230 people were killed, including at least 74 from Niger, at the weekend in the country’s bloodiest battle yet with Boko Haram militants from neighbouring Nigeria, the government said on Tuesday.

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

Niger soldiers were initially overwhelmed when hundreds of the militants attacked the Lake Chad island of Karamga at dawn on Saturday aboard motorised canoes.

The island, attacked once before by Boko Haram in February, is prized by both sides as a strategic base among a vast maze of waterways and swampland. The army says it has since wrested it back from the guerrillas.

“On the side of our forces: 46 dead, 9 injured, 32 missing. On the enemy’s side, 156 terrorists were killed. In addition, 28 residents of the island were assassinated by the terrorists,” said interior minister Hassoumi Massoudou on state radio.

Niger forces had initially held back from giving a death toll as they searched for bodies among the mangroves. It declared three days of national mourning beginning on Wednesday.

The attack comes despite significant military victories by Nigeria and regional allies Niger, Chad and Cameroon in winning back territory from Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

Nigeria’s army said on Tuesday it has rescued 200 girls and 93 women during a military operation to take back control of the Sambisa Forest from the Boko Haram militant Islamist group.

Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaki; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Andrew Hay

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