A top US envoy is visiting Cameroon as part of efforts to bolster the fight against the Nigeria's Boko Haram. Cameroonian bishops calling for negotiations with the militant Islamists have met with criticism.
"All of you who are attempting to fight this terror, the United States stands with you," said Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, while making at trip to Maroua, a Cameroonian enclave sandwiched between Chad and Nigeria.
The insurgency launched by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in 2009 has killed an estimated 20,000 people in this decade and displaced around 2.6 million, more than half of whom are children.
Power told reporters that the international community would help Cameroon fight Boko Haram, but it was important to have a strategy in place to provide security, development and human rights to vulnerable populations in liberated territory.
She was referring to areas reclaimed from Boko Haram when Nigeria and its neighbors, including Cameroon; began a concerted military campaign against Boko Haram in January of last year.
"I just want to underscore that America's support for this effort is one that cuts across all areas. We cannot defeat Boko Haram only using military force," Power said.
Tragedy struck the US diplomat's visit when an armored jeep in her motorcade accidentally struck a 7-year-old boy killing him instantly when he darted on to the road. Power later said she visited the boy's family with UN, US and Cameroonian officials "to offer our profound condolences."
Cameroon troops near the border to Nigeria. The Cameroonian government says it does not negotiate with terrorists
Bishops seeking dialogue
Some religious leaders in Cameroon have been calling for dialogue with Boko Haram. Catholic Archbishop Samuel Kleda of the Doula archdiocese said he had been asked by the Episcopal Conference, the official assembly of bishops, to write once again to their Nigerian equivalent asking them "to do everything possible to open negotiations with Boko Haram."
In a reply to an earlier letter from the Cameroonian bishops, the Nigerians said that it was "very, very difficult to dialogue with them [Boko Haram] because they did not know the true representatives."
Kleda said they had also contacted Muslim leaders in northern Cameroon to see if they could help identify the real representatives of Boko Haram.
This initiative was dismissed by Cameroonian government spokesperson Issa Tchiroma Bakary, who told DW Cameroon does not negotiate with terrorists. He said it was the policy of President Paul Biya "to defend the territorial integrity of Cameroon and protect all women and men as well as their property." The government spokesman also forecast that "this terrorist group is doomed to disappear."
Devout Cameroonians DW spoke to showed little sympathy for the bishops' peace overture. Nicoline Asahfor, who identified herself as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran church, said Boko Haram was evil and "there was no question of negotiating with the forces of evil."
It is widely suspected that Yaounde has been negotiating with Boko Haram. The country secured the release of a French national Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, his brother, wife and four children in 2013, a German national in 2015, a Canadian missionary and some 30 others including the wife of Cameroon's deputy prime minister, who had been kidnapped by militant Islamists. Government spokesperson Issa Tchiroma Bakary denies that ransoms were paid.
Moki Kindzeka in Cameroon contributed to this report.