Cameroon’s army says it has freed 24 of some 80 hostages kidnapped during a cross-border attack by Boko Haram militants based in neighbouring Nigeria.
Boko Haram terrorists attacked two villages in northern Cameroon early on Sunday, kidnapping 80 people and killing several others.
Cameroon’s defence ministry said its forces have been pursuing the Boko Haram terrorists as they fled towards the Nigerian Border.
No details about the rescue operation have been revealed, but reports on the weekend said most of those abducted were women and children.
The kidnapping was one of the largest abductions on Cameroonian soil.
Boko Haram has killed thousands of people and kidnapped hundreds in its bid to carve out an Islamic state in northern Nigeria.
In recent months, it has targeted Cameroon and Niger as it seeks to expand its zone of operations.
At the weekend, neighbouring Chad deployed troops to help Cameroon in its efforts to tackle the insurgency in the area.
As the militants retreated, the Chadian army said it was putting 400 military vehicles, attack helicopters, and a still unspecified number of soldiers amassed in northern Cameroon into action against Boko Haram, as part of a regional effort to defeat the notoriously violent group.
“We are going to advance towards the enemy,” Chadian army colonel Djerou Ibrahim said, who is leading the offensive against Boko Haram.
“Our mission is to hunt down Boko Haram, and we have all the means to do that.”
Chadian president Idriss Deby has clearly stated his determination to re-capture the strategic town of Baga in northeastern Nigeria, which Boko Haram stormed in murderous attacks in early January.
“The attack by Boko Haram on the border town of Baga is the latest in a long series of atrocities killing hundreds and displacing thousands of innocent people,” European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.
“Increasingly frequent attacks, notably into Cameroon, demonstrate that the threat from Boko Haram has taken on a regional dimension.”
Chad has thus far been spared attack by Boko Haram, but only a thin sliver of land in northern Cameroon separates the desert state from the Islamists’ stronghold in Nigeria’s Borno state.
Chad has also been affected by the refugee crisis sparked by Boko Haram’s insurgency, and Mr Deby has warned he will “not stand idly by” as the extremists enlarge their field of activity.
Nigeria, which has been unable to halt Boko Haram on its own, expressed its conditional support of Chadian soldiers eventually being deployed on its soil.
“All backing of our operations will be welcomed, but that must conform to operations we already have under way, given those are on Nigerian territory,” Nigerian army spokesman Chris Olukolade said.
The leaders of Ghana and Germany, who met in Berlin on Monday, supported using EU money to help fund a regional African force to battle the Islamists.
“I believe it is right to choose African troops for this task but it is our common interest that we sustainably finance such a force,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters.
Ghanian president John Dramani Mahama said “it would be very important if our partners could join in terms of how we finance that force”.
Boko Haram controls large parts of northern Nigeria. It claims to have established an Islamic Caliphate in West Africa.
UN Security Council backs Boko Haram fight
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has urged central African countries to step up plans for a multinational force to fight Boko Haram, in its first overall response to the threat posed by the Nigerian jihadists.
The council issued a 13-point statement strongly condemning attacks by Boko Haram, in particular those involving children used as suicide bombers, and demanded an end to the violence.
A statement presented by Nigeria, one of the council’s 10 non-permanent members, expressed deep concern that the activities of Boko Haram are undermining the peace and stability in the region, and demanded that Boko Haram cease all hostilities and all abuses of human rights and violations
The council statement urged regional leaders to further plan a sustainable, viable and effective Multinational Joint Task Force that could conduct joint operations
A multinational force including contingents from Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and Benin has been under discussion since last year, but divisions over the scale and scope of its operations have slowed down the deployment.