NIAMEY - Niger's government on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in the Diffa region along the border with Nigeria, which has been attacked repeatedly by Boko Haram in recent days.
The announcement came after the country's defence minister raised the alarm over the situation in Diffa, where he said residents were fleeing out of fears of further violence.
"The state of emergency is proclaimed in the Diffa region for a period of 15 days," a statement read on state radio said. The measure will grant increased powers to security forces, including to carry out searches.
Niger had mostly been spared the violence in the six-year Boko Haram insurgency which has centred in neighbouring northeastern Nigeria, but the Islamists have attacked the country several times since last week.
One such incident involved an attack by a female suicide bomber on Monday, killing at least six people and wounding several others, a military report said.
The recent attacks came in the run up to a vote by Niger's parliament on Monday to send troops to Nigeria to join a regional fight against Boko Haram. Niger's parliament voted unanimously to contribute 750 troops.
A journalist based in the Diffa area said businesses, government offices and schools were closed on Tuesday as residents sought to flee.
Some 125,000 refugees have fled to southeast Niger.
The UN food agency on Tuesday voiced concern for the plight of the refugees.
"The World Food Programme is particularly concerned by the attacks in the north of Nigeria which are spreading to Niger, forcing thousands of people to flee," WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said.
Byrs stressed "the appalling situation" in which refugees are living in the Diffa region, where the population has almost doubled, due to refugees from Nigeria, and food stocks are becoming scarce.
On Saturday, Nigeria and its neighbours -- Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Benin -- agreed to muster 8,700 troops, police and civilians for a wider, African Union-backed force against Boko Haram.
The Boko Haram conflict has killed more than 13,000 people since 2009. — AFP