YAOUNDE, CAMEROON —
Nigeria and its four neighbors have pledged troops to a 7,500-strong force to fight the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram, but failure to agree on funding could delay the force’s deployment.
African Union officials have been meeting in Cameroon’s capital since Thursday to finalize plans to fight the Islamic extremist groups. Like Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin have agreed to contribute a battalion each to the force.
The plan’s approval is critical to getting the U.N. Security Council's blessing for military involvement by other African nations in the fight against Boko Haram. The AU meeting is scheduled to end Saturday.
The United Nations’ representative, Jacqueline Seck Diouf, told VOA that while the AU wants funding, the U.N. has promised only logistics. Seck Diouf said the United Nations’ immediate task is to give technical support. Any other assistance will be decided by the council and the U.N. secretary-general, she said, adding she will relay the AU’s suggestions.
Boko Haram blamed for at least 100 deaths
Cameroon’s defense minister, Edgard Alain Mebe Ngo'o, said that while the meeting was going on, Boko Haram fighters again challenged African leaders over the regional force by killing at least 100 people in northern Cameroon.
The defense minister said roughly 800 militants burned churches, mosques and villages, and slaughtered youth who resisted joining them. He said 91 civilians were killed, along with at least 13 Chadian and six Cameroonian soldiers. Hundreds of people were seriously wounded.
Nigeria's consul general, Danjuma Sheni, said millions of people have been displaced by the fighting and need the international community’s support beyond military aid. He said Nigeria has suggested the displaced also have unmet psychological and humanitarian requirements.
"The stakes are, of course, extremely high,” Sheni said, citing the security and refugee crises and “the threat to international peace and security.
“Nigeria is one of the main [countries] affected by the insurgency, and therefore we expect cooperation from our neighbors and the international community," he said.
Training mandate for troops
Colonel Pale Ollo Alain, director of military operations at the Economic Community of West African States, told VOA the regional group has been given the mandate to train the multinational task force to fight Boko Haram. The commission will provide operational and logistical support, he said, but expects funding from external partners.
France has promised to continue assisting the threatened countries, according to Christine Robichon, its ambassador to Cameroon. But she said officials are waiting for the U.N. Security Council to give the force a legal backing.
In an interview with VOA, Robichon condemned the ongoing fighting in northern Cameroon, where the extremists have been on a killing spree.
"I want to express the strongest condemnation by France of this horrible violence against civilians and soldiers,” she said. “We are providing support to increase capacities of the countries of the region to coordinate their response to the threat.
"The decision to create such a force has been endorsed by the African Union," Robichon continued. "The matter will be brought to the security council to pass a resolution which will provide legal support and also deal with the financial aspect."