Nigeria and its neighbours have vowed to join forces against Boko Haram under an accord described as a declaration of war on the Islamic militants holding more than 200 schoolgirls.
Meeting in Paris, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and his counterparts from Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger approved an action plan to counter an organisation that has been blamed for 2000 deaths this year as well as last month’s abduction of the schoolgirls from northeastern Nigeria.
Underlining their threat, Boko Haram was suspected of carrying out another attack on the eve of the summit, killing one Cameroonian soldier and kidnapping 10 Chinese workers in Cameroon.
“We have seen what this organisation is capable of,” French President Francois Hollande said on Saturday.
“They have threatened civilians, they have attacked schools and they have kidnapped citizens of many countries. France in particular has been a victim of it.
“When more than 200 young girls are being held in barbaric conditions with the prospect of being sold into slavery, there are no questions to be asked, only actions to be taken,” Hollande added.
The action plan will involve co-ordination of surveillance efforts aimed at finding the girls, the sharing of intelligence and joint efforts to secure the porous borders in the region, according to the summit’s conclusions.
In the longer term, the countries agreed to forge a regional counter-terrorism strategy under the auspices of the existing but barely active Lake Chad Basin Commission, with technical expertise and training support from Britain, France, the European Union and the United States.
The countries also agreed to push for UN sanctions against the leaders of Boko Haram and another Nigerian Islamist group, Ansaru.
Britain will host a follow-up meeting on implementation of the action plan next month.
Nigeria’s Jonathan, who has been criticised for what many see as a lacklustre response to the girls’ abduction, said he was committed to returning them to their distraught families.
“We are totally committed to finding the girls, wherever they are,” Jonathan said.
“We’ve been scanning these areas with surveillance aircraft,” he added, saying Nigeria had deployed 20,000 troops to find the girls.
“Boko Haram is no longer a local terror group.
“From 2009 to today it has changed and can be described as al-Qaeda in western and central Africa.”
US drones and surveillance aircraft are among resources already at Nigeria’s disposal.
Military experts from Britain, France and the US are advising Nigeria on its counter-terrorism strategy, but the Western powers have ruled out deploying combat forces to help locate the missing girls. [AAP]