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General News of Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Source: Reuters

France urges closer regional collaboration against Boko Haram

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France's defence minister on Monday called for Nigeria and its neighbours to set up a military liaison committee to better coordinate their response to the growing regional threat posed by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

Nigeria's Boko Haram fighters have stepped up their attacks across much of the country's north in the past year, raiding villages, kidnapping children and seizing territory for their declared caliphate.

Their operations have increasingly spilled over Nigeria's borders into Niger to the north and Cameroon to the east, and has left Chad fearing it could also be dragged into the conflict.

Last May in Paris, the leaders of all four countries agreed to work together more closely, but despite the promises there appears to have been little tangible coordination between Abuja and neighbouring governments.

"There is a serious threat to the integrity of Nigeria and for its neighbours be it Cameroon, Niger or Chad," Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters at an Africa security forum in the Senegalese capital Dakar.

"For this reason, we'd like to see a military liaison committee setup between the authorities of these four countries to help coordinate their action and their capacity to respond," he said.

He said France was ready to provide several officers to help those efforts. The four countries, whose borders meet at Lake Chad, an area that has become a Boko Haram stronghold, pledged in July to mobilise a joint force of 2,800 soldiers to tackle the group.

That force has yet to be put in place, and while the countries have collaborated at times, observers criticise a lack of cohesion in the effort to defeat the Islamist insurgents.

"The action should be proportional with the magnitude of what's at stake," the United Nations special envoy to the Sahel region Hiroute Gebre Selassie told Reuters. "There are efforts, but there is nothing that suggests to me that the magnitude of (the problem) is reducing. On the contrary."

Some Western officials have also expressed frustration with oil-rich Nigeria over its lack of progress against Boko Haram given its military might and the urgency of the situation.

France bases the headquarters of its 3,200-strong counter-insurgency Barkhane force in the Chadian capital N'Djamena, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Nigerian border.

Paris has ruled out direct military involvement for now, but said it can play a role in easing tensions and instigating dialogue between its three former colonies and anglophone Nigeria.

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