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Boko Haram incursion in Cameroon

Mark Caldwell (Reuters, AFP, KNA, AP, dpa)January 19, 2015

Cameroon's army says it has freed some of the 80 hostages seized by Boko Haram in Sunday's raid on northern Cameroon. Boko Haram is no longer just a Nigerian problem, the region is now realizing.

Kamerun Mora Armee Soldaten Anti Boko Haram 07/2014
Cameroonian soldiers mobilized to face the armed Islamist group Boko HaramImage: Reinnier Kaze/AFP/Getty Images

Cameroon's army has freed 24 of some 80 hostages seized during a cross border raid by suspected Boko Haram militants.

Defense ministry spokesman Colonel Didier Badjeck said they were liberated as defense forces pursued the attackers who were heading back to Nigeria.

Residents of the Tourou area in northern Cameroon told DW hundreds of suspected Boko Haram militants attacked two villages on Sunday (18.01.2015).

"They went from house to house and took all the women and children with them."

An unknown number of villagers were killed when Boko Haram entered the houses. "They slaughtered them like goats," the residents said.

The kidnapping was one of the largest abductions on Cameroonian soil.

Tschadische Soldaten bei Rückkehr aus Mali 13.05.2013 mit Präsident Idriss Deby Itno
President Idriss Deby welcoming Chadian soldiers home on their return from Mali in May 2013Image: STR/AFP/Getty Images

DW's correspondent in Cameroon Moki Kindzeka said "people here are afraid that what is happening in Nigeria may soon be happening in Cameroon, too."

He was referring to an insurgency which has claimed at least 13,000 lives and driven an estimated 1.5 million people from their homes - mostly in northeastern Nigeria - since 2009.

Porous border

The violence resumed in northern Nigeria in a separate attack on Sunday when a suicide bomber killed four people and injured 35 others in the town of Potiskum, according to local media.

Half of the 500 kilometer (311 miles) border that Cameroon shares with Nigeria is already occupied by Boko Haram on the Nigerian side, and DW's correspondent said it would be easy for them to cross over and kidnap more Cameroonians or send in suicide bombers.

The release of some of the hostages while Cameroon's forces were in pursuit came after Chad had begun deploying troops to the country to assist in the fight against the extremists.

Thousands of Chadian troops have arrived in Cameroon in some 400 military trucks, accompanied by military helicopters.

Comfort Ero, Africa Program Director at the International Crisis Group, told DW that "tanks and armored vehicles with Chadian soldiers had been seen to be arriving" in Cameroon.

The Chadian armed forces "have an impressive record of fighting rebels and insurgents. You will recall that they were specifically asked to come to Mali," she said.

Nigeria Potiskum Selbstmordanschlag 12.01.2015
Cameroonians are worried that their country could face suicide attacks like this one in Potiskum, NigeriaImage: Aminu Abubakar/AFP/Getty Images

'Chadian muscle and strength'

Ero said it had taken the region some time to appreciate the reality of the Boko Haram incursion. After the attacks intensified, the countries in the region realized they would have to cooperate, but there is still a lot of mistrust between Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon.

She added that "increasingly, we are seeing Chadian muscle and strength spread out across the region."

Chadian president Idriss Deby has called for the formation of an African alliance to fight Boko Haram. The online edition of the French paper La Croix quoted him on Sunday as urging all countries belonging to the Economic Community of Central Africa States to forge a broad coalition against the terrorists.

Known by its French acronym CEEAC, the group comprises of Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Burundi, Gabon, Cameroon, DR Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Chad and the Central African Republic.

Deby said the wave of Boko Haram in Nigeria and Cameroon was also threatening the stability of Chad's borders.

Another African leader to voice concern was Ghanaian President John Mahama. Speaking shortly before a visit to Germany, he called for the deployment of a regional intervention force to northern Nigeria under the auspices of the African Union.

Chancellor Merkel told Mahama in Berlin the European Union would be deliberating over "possible assistance" for such a force and that she herself was interested in seeing it received "sustainable funding."