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Central African leaders talk strategy against Boko Haram

16 February 2015, 19:00

Yaounde - Central African leaders began talks Monday in Cameroon's capital Yaounde on a joint strategy to tackle the extremist Boko Haram group, officials said.

Six heads of state attended the meeting held under the aegis of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), while four other countries sent delegates.

"We have to eradicate Boko Haram," host President Paul Biya told his counterparts at the outset of the meeting.

Biya described the Nigeria-based fundamentalists as "partisans of a regressive and tyrannical society", determined to undermine "a modern and tolerant society, guaranteeing the exercise of free rights" and freedom of faith.

Apart from Cameroon and Chad, most countries taking part have not been directly affected by the bloody jihadist insurgency, which is estimated to have claimed 13,000 lives since the Boko Haram sect launched its uprising in 2009.

Nigeria, where elections have been postponed by six weeks until late March because of Boko Haram activity in swathes of the northeast, was absent from the talks since it is not an ECCAS member.

The aim of Monday's discussion was to come up with "an agreed solution" on the fight against the extremists, a source close to the Cameroonian government told AFP.

Biya declared that Boko Haram's utter disregard for human dignity meant "a total impossibility of compromise with (...) terrorist movements", adding that the fight against terrorism was not a "crusade against Islam".

Together with Biya, presidents Catherine Samba Panza of the Central African Republic, Idriss Deby Itno of Chad, Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon were gathered in Yaounde.

Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sao Tome and Principe were represented by government ministers.

With his country's troops actively engaged in combatting Boko Haram, ECCAS chairman Deby called on nations in the economic group "who have not yet been struck" by the insurgency "to show their solidarity".

"We also call on the international community to provide its support -- in equipment, diplomacy, finance, logistics and humanitarian aid -- to the efforts made by ECCAS," Deby said.

After previous talks in Yaounde, Nigeria's immediate neighbours, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and small Benin announced on February 7 that they would mobilise a regional force of 8,700 men to fight Boko Haram.

The sect has since struck inside Chad, after previously targeting border villages in Cameroon and Niger.

Operational plans for the regional force have yet to be submitted to the Peace and Security Council of the African Union for approval before being sent to the United Nations Security Council, according to a statement released after the regional talks.

In a statement read in Yaounde on his behalf, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that "a purely military solution" would not suffice to deal with Boko Haram.

The fight called for a "multidimensional approach (...) that will meet the challenges of stabilisation in the long term," the UN chief said, referring to the region's economic and social challenges.

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