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Boko Haram in fresh attack: region meets on strategy

French President Francois Hollande (C) attends the African Security Summit with (LtoR) Cameroon's President Paul Biya, Benin's President Thomas Yayi Boni, Chad's President Idriss Deby, Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague, France's Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman at the Elysee Palace in Paris, May 1

PARIS: Boko Haram gunmen killed a Chinese worker in Cameroon and kidnapped 10 others overnight, piling more pressure on leaders meeting in Paris Saturday to thrash out a tougher strategy against the Nigerian Islamists.

Militants stormed an encampment used by Chinese road workers late Friday in a region of northern Cameroon just across the border from the strongholds where they sparked global outrage by abducting more than 200 schoolgirls last month.

"The Boko Haram militants were heavily armed, they came in five vehicles," an official in Waza, a town near the site of the attack, told AFP on condition of anonymity.

He said the camp where the Chinese road workers stayed was usually guarded by soldiers from Cameroon's elite Rapid Intervention Battalion, but that many of the troops were in Yaounde for a military parade marking National Day on May 20.

"Cameroonian soldiers retaliated and the fighting lasted until 3:00 am (0200 GMT)," said a local police chief, who said the militants also raided the police armoury in Waza overnight.

He said one Chinese worker was killed and 10 others had been missing since the attack and were believed kidnapped by the Boko Haram gunmen.

A source close to the Chinese embassy in the Cameroonian capital Yaounde spoke of 10 missing and one wounded but would not confirm or deny whether one had been killed.

News of the latest attack came as west African and European leaders gathered for a special meeting in Paris aimed at ramping up action against the increasingly regionalised threat posed by Boko Haram.

At the half-day summit, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan will be pressed to seek much closer cooperation with Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin.

A long-running territorial dispute has soured relations between Nigeria and Cameroon, hampering any steps towards joint action against the militants.

" Boko Haram represents a risk to the stability of every state in the region, and the leaders of these countries have to be aware of that," said a French diplomat.

The group, which is waging a deadly campaign to create an Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria, has achieved a new level of notoriety since it seized the girls a month ago.

French President Francois Hollande discussed the conference and the hunt for the girls with US President Barack Obama in a phone call Friday, the White House said.

Among the resources already put at Nigeria's disposal have been US drones and surveillance aircraft but further Western military involvement is not on the agenda, officials say.

"Nobody is talking about Western military intervention: the Nigerians neither need nor want that," a French defence official said.

Instead, the emphasis is on sharing intelligence and knowledge about dealing with groups like Boko Haram.

France has particular experience in that area, having recently secured the release of a French family that was kidnapped by suspected Boko Haram fighters in Cameroon and then held in Nigeria for two months.

France has troops deployed on peacekeeping duty in the Central African Republic and in Mali, where it sent a force last year to combat Al Qaeda-linked militants who had seized control of much of the north of the country.

Although the French believe that the intervention in Mali inflicted significant damage on groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI), military planners remain concerned about the implications of potential alliances being forged between militants in northern Nigeria, Mali and the north of the profoundly unstable Central Africa.

"If they all link up, that would be very problematic, for France, for Europe and the rest of the world," said one planner.

French military officials believe Boko Haram's links to Mali-based groups are key to it being able to source weapons, many of which originate in Libya.

In terms of concrete help for Nigeria's anti-terrorism efforts, Paris has signalled that it could put Rafale fighter planes and drones it has based in the region at the disposal of Jonathan's government for surveillance activities.

The Nigerian leader is under pressure to be seen being proactive over the abducted girls after coming under fire for cancelling a visit to their hometown Chibok which had been scheduled for Friday.

The visit was reported to have been called off for security reasons -- which reignited criticism of the administration's handling of the crisis that erupted when the 276 girls were abducted on April 14.

Some subsequently escaped their captors but 223 are still missing.

The girls' fate has become the focus of a global campaign and Jonathan has been frequently depicted as being indifferent to the suffering of their families.

"If, as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he is afraid to visit Chibok because of security fears, he is simply telling the hapless people in the northeast that he cannot protect them and they should resign themselves to their fate," said Debo Adeniran, of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders pressure group.

Robert Menendez, the chairman of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said this week that Nigeria had been "tragically and unacceptably slow" to tackle the crisis.

 

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Summary

Boko Haram gunmen killed a Chinese worker in Cameroon and kidnapped 10 others overnight, piling more pressure on leaders meeting in Paris Saturday to thrash out a tougher strategy against the Nigerian Islamists.

"Cameroonian soldiers retaliated and the fighting lasted until 3:00 am (0200 GMT)," said a local police chief, who said the militants also raided the police armoury in Waza overnight.

He said one Chinese worker was killed and 10 others had been missing since the attack and were believed kidnapped by the Boko Haram gunmen.

France has particular experience in that area, having recently secured the release of a French family that was kidnapped by suspected Boko Haram fighters in Cameroon and then held in Nigeria for two months.

Although the French believe that the intervention in Mali inflicted significant damage on groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI), military planners remain concerned about the implications of potential alliances being forged between militants in northern Nigeria, Mali and the north of the profoundly unstable Central Africa.


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