PARIS – Hours after yet another attack in a Boko Haram stronghold, leaders from five African nations gathered in Paris on Saturday for a summit with Western officials in hopes of coordinating actions against the Islamic extremist group holding more than 200 girls captive.
The militants, who claim to be fighting a holy war in Nigeria, move freely across the border into neighboring Cameroon, where a Chinese company’s camp came under attack late Friday.
The leaders of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Benin were meeting Saturday with French, U.S. and British officials in hopes of coordinating strategy and sharing intelligence to find the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls.
Boko Haram has offered to exchange the 276 girls who remain captive for jailed insurgents, and threaten otherwise to sell the the girls into slavery.
Officials have said there will be no Western military operation. British officials say Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who has reluctantly accepted outside help, has ruled swapping prisoners for the girls.
On Friday, Jonathan canceled a trip to the town where the girls were seized, apparently due to security concerns.
Signs are growing that some Nigerian troops are near mutiny, complaining they are overwhelmed and outgunned by Boko Haram insurgents. Soldiers have told The Associated Press that some in the ranks actually fight alongside the group. Last year, Jonathan said he suspected that Boko Haram members and sympathizers had infiltrated every level of his government and military, including the Cabinet.
That complicates attempts to share intelligence. The U.S., France and Britain have all sent experts to help find the girls, but French and American officials have expressed concerns about how any information might be used.
The northeastern region where the girls were kidnapped has suffered five years of increasingly deadly assaults by Boko Haram. Thousands have been killed, including more than 1,500 civilians this year alone.
Cameroon, which borders the region, has begun to take the threat more seriously after years of dismissing it as a Nigerian problem, French officials have said.
France has negotiated the release of citizens held by Boko Haram in Cameroon and officials are hoping Saturday’s summit will force a more international approach.
Chinese state media reported that 10 people were missing in the Friday night attack on the camp in a region where Boko Haram has previously abducted foreigners, including a French family of seven and a priest. The report gave no details about the company.
China is a major investor in Cameroon, helping build infrastructure, public health projects and sports facilities and importing crude oil, timber and cotton.
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, and Michelle Faul in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed.