MAROUA, CAMEROON - Cameroon authorities have detained 30 Nigerians who crossed the border Saturday on suspicion of links to Boko Haram Islamist militants. Police say the group of mainly women and children did not have permission to cross the border or identification cards, and failed to answer their questions, as
Cameroon security forces say they traced a bus transporting the detained suspects as it illegally crossed the border Saturday from Gamborou Ngala, a former stronghold of Boko Haram militants in Nigeria.
Chetima Malla Abba, the highest-ranking police officer in Cameroon’s Far North Region, which borders with Nigeria, says when stopped by police, the 30 Nigerians, mainly women and children, raised further suspicions.
He says they have been detained for not being able to present any identification papers, not being able to give the names of the people they claim they want to visit in Cameroon, and for entering the country from a Boko Haram alert zone without obtaining the necessary clearance.
Abba gave no further evidence for the Nigerians’ alleged links to Boko Haram. But police say they take such suspicious crossings from Nigeria very seriously.
An estimated 30,000 Nigerians have returned since Tuesday from Cameroon to the flashpoint town of Rann, which has been targeted repeatedly by Boko Haram militants this year, the U.N.
Boko Haram militants, they say, have in the past disguised as commuters, merchants or even clerics to launch attacks in Cameroon. And the group has been known to use female suicide bombers.
Police in Maroua say they are investigating the Nigerians’ identities and reasons for coming to Cameroon.
When seen by a reporter, the detained 30 Nigerians, some in burqas, looked tired but in good health.
Nigeria authorities had no immediate reaction to the detentions.
The governor of the Far North Region, Midjiyawa Bakari, says Boko Haram attacks have diminished in recent months due to increased security measures.
But he warned Boko Haram looks for opportunities to infiltrate when many people are travelling across the border for religious or national holidays.
Bakari says he ordered the police and military to intensify checks around the border zone as Cameroon prepares for national and religious events. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that begins on May 5, international Labor Day on May 1, and National Day on May 20, Boko Haram tries to infiltrate and kill people as they gather around mosques and markets, he says.
France said on Thursday its defense cooperation with Cameroon was continuing a day after the United States said it was halting some military assistance to the West African country over allegations of human rights violations by its security forces.
"France is bound by a defense partnership agreement that it conducts according to the international standards," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in a daily briefing with reporters.
"In accordance with international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict, this cooperation is also intended to help Cameroon's defense and
Bakari also credits efforts by the multinational joint task force of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, made up of troops from Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria for improved security.
Boko Haram extended its attacks from inside Nigeria to Cameroon six years ago, after Cameroon’s troops began assisting the Nigerian military in fighting the extremists.
Cameroon authorities say more than 1,500 Cameroonians have been killed in the attacks.
Nigerian and regional troops have taken back most of the territory that Boko Haram once controlled, but the Islamist terrorists are still able to launch frequent attacks.
In Cameroon, many Boko Haram fighters have surrendered in recent months. But Cameroon lacks facilities to rehabilitate them.
Soldiers of the Multi National Joint Task Force fighting the Boko Haram insurgency, sing at their base in Mora on Cameroon's northern border with Nigeria as they train for eventual operations against the terrorist group.
At the same base, there are 87 Boko Haram fighters in custody.
The United Nations says Boko Haram killed 88 people in Niger in March, compared to a total of 107 deaths for all of 2018, and that a new pattern of targeting displaced people was emerging.