Central African leaders talk strategy against Boko Haram

A Boko Haram' tank destroyed by Cameroonian soldiers stands in front of a military base in Amchide, northern Cameroon on October 15, 2014 (AFP Photo/Reinnier Kaze)

Yaoundé (AFP) - Central African leaders met in Cameroon's capital Yaounde on Monday to discuss a joint strategy to tackle the Nigeria-based Boko Haram group, which has widened its attacks into neighbouring nations.

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 and Cameroon President Paul Biya said at the meeting.

The attendees pledged to "actively support" member states combating the Boko Haram threat, notably by offering military assistance, financial, logistical and humanitarian aid, according to a closing statement.

Member nations Cameroon and Chad have already 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", adding that the fight against terrorism was not a "crusade against Islam".

Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria have formed a military alliance to combat the notoriously brutal militants, who are fighting to create a hardline Islamic state.

On Monday, police in Niger said they had arrested more than 160 people suspected of having links to Boko Haram in Niger's Diffa region, a border area with Nigeria which was attacked by the Islamist group this month.

Nigeria, which has been most affected by Boko Haram violence, meanwhile announced its troops had recaptured the strategic garrison town of Monguno in the northeast, which had fallen into Boko Haram hands late last month.

"Troops in a military operation spearheaded by highly coordinated air assaults have completed the mission of clearing terrorists from Monguno and environs this morning," defence spokesman Chris Olukolade said.

- 'Solidarity' -

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.

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.