World powers turned their focus to the Boko Haram terror group this weekend, with the U.N. Security Council citing its anxiety over the group’s ties to ISIS as regional leaders gathered in Nigeria to devise ways to battle the Islamist extremist movement.
In a presidential statement issued Friday, the Security Council expressed alarm at Boko Haram’s links to ISIS and stressed that the group’s activities “undermine the peace and stability of the West and Central African region.”
It also said it was concerned over the food security crisis in the region and cited the widespread displacement caused by Boko Haram.
The council also noted the “internal displacement of more than 2.2 million Nigerians and over 450,000 internally-displaced persons and refugees in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. It called for the immediate release of thousands of Boko Haram captives, including 219 schoolgirls kidnapped two years ago.
The Security Council statement came on the eve of the Regional Security Summit in Abuja, Nigeria, hosted by President Muhammadu Buhari. Delegates hope to develop a strategy tackling “governance, security, development, and socio-economic and humanitarian dimensions of the crisis.”
The meeting is a followup to a summit in Paris two years ago focused on bolstering cooperation among Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Benin in the battle to defeat ISIS.
The council urged the international community “to immediately support the provision of urgent humanitarian assistance for the people most affected by the crisis in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria and notes than approximately 10 percent of the $531 million required to fulfill such assistance has been received this year.”
Those responsible for “these abuses and violations of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable and brought to justice,” the presidential statement said.
Among those attending the conference Saturday are French President Francois Hollande, Cameroonian President Paul Biya, Chadian President Idriss Deby, Beninese President Patrice Talon, Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou, British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and delegations from the European Union and West African and Central African blocs.
In its statement, the Security Council praised the “territorial advances” by Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria and Niger against Boko Haram and commended the Multinational Joint Task Force based in N’Djamena, Chad. It urged the nations in the task force to “enhance regional military cooperation.”
“The Security Council underscores the importance of a holistic approach to degrade and defeat Boko Haram that includes coordinated security operations, conducted in accordance with applicable international law, as well as enhanced civilian efforts to improve governance and promote economic growth in the affected areas,” the presidential statement said.
On Friday, Cameroon’s Communication Minister, Issa Tchiroma Bakary cited one such military stride.
He told reporters that Cameroon’s Special Defense and Security Forces, “in synergy with Nigerian forces,” killed at least 58 Boko Haram insurgents in a successful military operation near the Nigerian forest of Madawaya earlier this week. The region is near the Nigerian-Cameroon border.
“During this victorious assault which led to the complete destruction of three Boko Haram camps, a notorious warlord of the terrorist group by name Boubar Akaou was captured, alongside five of his crime mates. Fifty-eight members of the terrorist group were killed and several weapons seized,” he said. “Forty-six hostages were set free and brought back to Cameroon. These include 18 women, amongst them 15 Nigerians, three Cameroonians and 28 children.”
Cameroon’s military did not record any loss of human life.
Bakary said the assault confirmed that “new training camps for the terrorists who had escaped from previous military assaults” were based in the forest. Boko Haram fighters were staging suicide bombings and other attacks from the camps.
In February, a similar joint operation by Cameroon and Nigerian forces acting under the Multi-National Joint Task Force killed at least 92 militants and freed close to 900 hostages.
Also Friday, Cameroon paid tribute to thirteen of its fallen soldiers who had been killed in previous fights with the terrorists.
Ngala Killian Chimtom reported from Yaounde, Cameroon. CNN’s Joe Sterling reported from Atlanta.