Leaders of Nigeria, Cameroon try to forge closer effort against Boko Haram

The presidents of Nigeria and Cameroon tried to overcome differences in their efforts to crush the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram in two days of talks but they failed to announce a breakthrough on issues such as the right of cross-border pursuit.

Reuters| Updated: Jul 31, 2015, 00:13 AM IST

Yaounde: The presidents of Nigeria and Cameroon tried to overcome differences in their efforts to crush the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram in two days of talks but they failed to announce a breakthrough on issues such as the right of cross-border pursuit.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, making his first trip to Cameroon since winning power in March, and Cameroonian leader Paul Biya voiced support for a planned multinational task force to fight Boko Haram but they provided no specifics on when it would become operational.

When the talks wrapped up on Thursday, the made vague pledges to improve intelligence-sharing on Boko Haram and security cooperation along their long border.

The two men met after Boko Haram, which has sworn allegiance to Islamic State, launched a wave of attacks over the past two months in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger that have killed hundreds of people. The onslaught followed a military campaign by the regional powers that swept Boko Haram out of the towns of northeast Nigeria earlier this year. 

The planned 8,700-strong task force of troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin was supposed to start operations from July 31, but has been dogged by lack of funding and political will.

In a step toward activating the force, Nigeria announced on Thursday the appointment of Major General Iliya Abbah as its commander but major military operations appear unlikely before the end of the rainy season in September.

While the meeting appeared to soothe tensions between the two neighbours, analysts said the outcome was disappointingly vague about specifics for military cooperation. 

"We must remember that it`s not the first time that the two countries have promised to share intelligence," said Raoul Sumo Tayo, a Cameroonian political analyst. A summit on Boko Haram in May 2014 in Paris produced a similar pledge.

In the past, Abuja has accused Yaounde of dragging its feet over tackling Boko Haram, which analysts say established rear bases on the Cameroonian side of the Mandara mountains. 

Cameroon in turn has complained that its efforts to combat Boko Haram have been hampered by Nigeria`s refusal to grant its forces the right to pursue the militants onto its soil.

"The big disappointment was that the Cameroonian and Nigerian heads of state did not discuss the right of pursuit," Sumo Tayo said.

The joint task force, once operational, would have that right, officials say.

Buhari told Cameroonian state television that the African nations were expecting Western countries to provide training and equipment. The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday urged donors to back the campaign against Boko Haram.

Biya, in power since 1982, did not attend Buhari`s inauguration and the Nigerian leader`s trip comes nearly two months after he visited neighbouring Chad and Niger. In a tentative sign of warming relations, the two leaders agreed to meet again in Nigeria, though no date was set. 

In northeast Nigeria, suspected Boko Haram fighters killed at least 12 people and torched houses in a raid on the village of Yadin Kukuwa Tasha, about 30 km (20 miles) from Yobe state capital Damaturu on Thursday morning, villagers said.

"They started firing guns, burning houses and looting food items where available," said Musa Adamu, a farmer who said he escaped by running into the surrounding bush.

The raid was the sixth attack in Yobe state this month. Yobe borders Niger and neighbours Borno state, whose main city Maiduguri, has been hardest hit by insurgents in the last few weeks. 

Boko Haram took over Yadin Kukuwa Tasha and its surrounding areas for nearly two months earlier this year until the army pushed the militants out in March.