French President François Hollande said French troops will not be sent to Nigeria, but pledged France’s support in the regional fight against Boko Haram, in an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24 on Saturday.
“France will not intervene in Nigeria, simply because Nigeria has its own armed forces that are ready and efficient,” said Hollande.
When questioned about the growing criticisms, particularly in the US, about the Nigerian military’s efficiency and ability to rescue more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram militants last month, Hollande warned against being too harsh on the Nigerian armed forces.
“I don't think you can compare a terrorist group and a regular army,” said Hollande. “It's this confusion that gives an excuse to terrorist groups. There is an army in Nigeria. Its forces are trained. They're having trouble intervening in that area, the North, a specific region. We can provide them information, help them with some training. But there will be no French military intervention."
Hollande’s comments came more than a month after Boko Haram abducted the schoolgirls from a remote north-eastern Nigerian village last month, sparking a global #BringBackOurGirls campaign and prompting offers of help from countries such as the US, UK, France, China and Israel.
The French president reaffirmed France’s determination to help find the schoolgirls, but he provided no details about their whereabouts.
“The information is sometimes contradictory. We think the girls were separated. We think the girls are still in Nigeria. But we don’t have concrete proof,” he said.
Hollande spoke to FRANCE 24 at the end of a Paris summit on Nigeria’s security, where West African leaders agreed to wage “total war” against the militant Islamist group responsible for last month’s kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls.
The summit brought together Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan as well as leaders of neighbouring nations and representatives of the US, UK and Europe to coordinate a regional action plan against Boko Haram.
At a news conference Saturday, Jonathan noted that “Boko Haram is no longer a local terrorist group, it is operating clearly as an al Qaeda operation, it is an al Qaeda of West Africa.”
Bringing the leaders of Nigeria and Cameroon together
The central theme of the latest Paris talks was the regional spillover of the Boko Haram threat and the need for a coordinated regional response.
The summit opened hours after a Chinese national was killed and 10 others captured by suspected Boko Haram militants in the Cameroonian town of Waza near the Nigerian border.
With a 1,600 kilometre border between the two countries, Cameroon is at particular risk of a Boko Haram threat spillover. Over the past two years, at least seven French citizens have been kidnapped by Boko Haram and its more extremist splinter group, Ansaru, from Cameroonian border regions.
Amid simmering tensions between the two countries, Nigeria has, in the past, complained that the far north of Cameroon is being used by Boko Haram militants to shelter from a Nigerian military offensive and to transport weapons, and has urged Cameroon to tighten border security.
“It is true that Cameroon and Nigeria have to cooperate because they are neighbours. Northern Cameroon and northern Nigeria are zones at particular risk of instability,” said Hollande.
The Paris summit provided an opportunity for Jonathan to meet with Cameroonian President Paul Biya and engage in a discussion about a key sticking point between the two countries, namely the ability to conduct cross-border raids in the pursuit of Boko Haram fighters.
In an interview with FRANCE 24 at the end of the summit, Wendy Sherman, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said the talks had enabled regional and international partners to collectively engage in the issue.
“He [Hollande] got the five leaders of the African nations – including Nigeria and the surrounding countries – here, along with the US, the EU and the UK. And we really talked through what each country was doing, how we could coordinate better, coordinate on intel, on operations, but also coordinate on the long term – for economic development and dealing with poverty and underlying concerns,” said Sherman.
Noting that the US has an “interagency team” in Nigeria, Sherman said the US team in Nigeria was working closely with French and British teams on the ground. “We are making sure that our assets are deployed in coordinated way,” said Sherman. “We're used to working with each other around the world. So I think that we have a very successful way forward and our first focus, of course, is to bring the girls home."
Date created : 2014-05-17