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Nigeria lifts mobile phone blackout in militant stronghold

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigeria lifted a mobile phone blackout on the Islamist militant stronghold of Maiduguri on Friday, saying there were signs of improving security after months of blasts and attacks.

Signals were cut in the remote northeastern town and surrounding states in May in a bid to disrupt the activities of the Islamist Boko Haram sect, whose insurgency has killed thousands of people in the past three years.

The restoration of phone services was "in reaction to the improved security situation and to relax the environment and ease tensions," said military spokesman Chris Olukolade.

The blackout has also hurt mobile phone companies including South Africa's MTN, Gulf operator Etisalat and India's Bharti Airtel who have millions of customers in the area.

President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states on May 14, ordering extra troops in to try to crush Boko Haram.

The phone networks went down the same week, but returned in Adamawa last week and in Yobe on Wednesday.

Nigerian forces say their offensive has enabled them to wrest back control of the remote northeast from Boko Haram. They say they have destroyed important bases and arrested hundreds of suspected insurgents.

But he situation remains fragile. Boko Haram - whose name roughly translates as 'Western education is sinful' - has attacked at least four schools there over the past month, killings dozens of pupils.

Nigeria plans to withdraw much of its 1,200-strong contingent from the United Nations peace keeping mission in Mali, saying the troops are needed to beef up security at home, sources familiar with the matter say.

(Reporting by Lanre Ola; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130719/nigeria-lifts-mobile-phone-blackout-militant-stronghold