ABOVE: Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson said the Nigerian government has failed to provide security and protection to its people, after almost 300 girls were kidnapped by militants last month.
PARIS – Hours after yet another attack in a Boko Haram stronghold, African leaders and Western officials drew the outlines of an international plan to share intelligence and co-ordinate the fight against the Islamic extremist group holding more than 200 girls captive.
Calling the group fundamentally opposed to civilization, French President Francois Hollande emphasized Boko Haram’s links with al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.
The militants, who claim to be fighting a holy war in Nigeria, move freely across the border into neighbouring Cameroon, where a Chinese engineering firm’s camp came under attack late Friday. The camp was in the same nearly trackless parkland where the school girls were spirited away.
The leaders of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Benin met Saturday with French, U.S. and British officials in hopes of co-ordinating strategy and sharing intelligence to find the girls.
Boko Haram has offered to exchange the 276 girls who remain captive for jailed insurgents, and threaten otherwise to sell them into slavery.
“Boko Haram’s strategy, contrary to all civilization, is to destabilize Nigeria and to destroy the fundamental principles of human dignity,” Hollande said during the working lunch. “More than 200 young girls threatened with slavery is the proof.”
Officials have said there will be no Western military operation. British officials say Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who has reluctantly accepted outside help, has ruled out swapping prisoners for the girls.
On Friday, Jonathan cancelled a trip to the town where the girls were seized, apparently due to security concerns.
Signs are growing that some Nigerian troops are near mutiny, complaining they are overwhelmed and outgunned by Boko Haram. Soldiers have told The Associated Press that some in the ranks actually fight alongside the group. Last year, Jonathan said he suspected that Boko Haram members and sympathizers had infiltrated every level of his government and military, including the Cabinet.
That complicates attempts to share intelligence. The U.S., France and Britain have all sent experts to help find the girls, but French and American officials have expressed concerns about how any information might be used.
The northeastern region where the girls were kidnapped has suffered five years of increasingly deadly assaults by Boko Haram. Thousands have been killed, including more than 1,500 civilians this year.
Cameroon, which borders the region, has begun to take the threat more seriously after years of dismissing it as a Nigerian problem, French officials say.
France has negotiated the release of citizens held by Boko Haram in Cameroon and officials were hoping Saturday’s summit would set the outlines of a more international approach.
Chinese state media reported that 10 people were missing in the Friday night attack on the camp in a region where Boko Haram has previously abducted foreigners, including a French family of seven and a priest.
Hollande’s administration successfully negotiated the release of the French citizens, and officials in Paris said France’s experience dealing with Boko Haram as well as its good relations with the governments concerned were the impetus for the summit.
China is a major investor in Cameroon, helping build infrastructure, public health projects and sports facilities and importing crude oil, timber and cotton.
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, and Michelle Faul in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed.
© The Canadian Press, 2014