US condemns Nigeria violence

The United States Monday condemned clashes between troops and Islamist militants in northeastern Nigeria which saw massive fires engulf a town, urging authorities to respect human rights.

"The United States does condemn the violence that took the lives of so many innocent civilians in Baga, Borno state," acting deputy State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.

Heavy fighting which erupted on Friday between Nigerian troops and suspected Islamist insurgents has killed 187 people and injured 77 others, with massive blazes destroying nearly half the town, the Red Cross said Monday.

Baga lies in Borno state, the home base of Boko Haram, but the town had not previously been known as the site of such heavy fighting.

While Washington supported Nigeria's battle against Boko Haram, Ventrell said civilians had to be protected and human rights respected, adding "violent extremism requires more than just a security response."

More broadly, Nigerian leaders also "have to address these vulnerable communities' concerns," Ventrell said.

"They have to do so in not necessarily a heavy-handed way, but in one that is effective and focused on their legitimate economic and political needs in the north as well."

Ventrell stressed that "Boko Haram exploits legitimate northern grievances to attract recruits and public sympathy."

However, he could not confirm reports that the militants have been using rocket propelled grenades in their attacks, which could indicate that the group is getting significant help from Al-Qaeda linked groups in the region.

"Clearly, we're concerned about the context of them trying to have deeper ties with other violent extremists throughout the region," Ventrell said, adding the US was "watching very closely" how the situation develops.