MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Nearly 1,000 people detained for alleged links to extremist group Boko Haram have been released, Nigeria’s military said Wednesday, while some said they had been held for more than three years before found to be falsely suspected.

The military “is not happy about detaining innocent civilians,” Borno State Gov. Babagana Zulum said, adding that the release of the 983 people “signals the beginning of peace” in the northeast state that was the birthplace of the deadly insurgency a decade ago.

The military would not say how many more people remain in the detention that has long been criticized by human rights groups. Nigeria’s military has struggled to combat the extremists despite repeated government claims that Boko Haram has been crushed.

Maj. Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi, who leads the Nigerian counterinsurgency force in the region, said those remaining will undergo similar vetting for possible release. He defended the detentions as needed to protect the population.

“I know this experience will continue to remain fresh in your memories,” he told those freed. “Please understand that it was done in the line of duty.”

Officials said those released — all but five of them men — will go through a government rehabilitation program for a month before being reunited with families.

Most of those freed were not allowed to speak with journalists.

Ahmadu Jidda, a 48-year-old trader, said he was detained in 2016. "Since then I have not spoken to my wife and family,” he said, adding that he and fellow detainees had not been tortured.

One of the five women freed, who gave her name only as Falmata, said she was detained about a year ago after being falsely accused of helping Boko Haram.

"I really do not know why such falsehood was meted upon me but God has proven my innocence," the 24-year-old said.

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