U.S. must step up support for operation against West Africa militants: France

French soldiers prepare their armoured vehicles at the Relay Desert Platform Camp (PfDR) in Ansongo, Mali, October 15, 2017, during the regional anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

By John Irish and Yara Bayoumy

PARIS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States must step up its support for a planned African force to fight Islamist militants in West Africa otherwise it could fail, leaving French troops to carry the burden alone, France’s defense minister said on Friday.

France intervened in Mali to ward off an offensive by Islamist militants that began in 2012 and 4,000 of its troops remain in the region as part of Operation Barkhane where they work alongside 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Mali.

France and West African countries are pushing for the creation of a regional force known as the G5 Sahel.

Washington provides bilateral assistance, intelligence and training for regional security operations, but it is cool toward the African force and has pushed back against U.N. support for it.

“In the Sahel, France is deploying in a high-intensity environment, with tremendous support from the United States. We are immensely grateful for that support,” Parly said in a speech at a Washington think tank monitored in Paris.

“But much more needs to be done. We can’t be, and don’t want to be, the praetorian (guards) of sovereign African countries. They must be made able to defeat terror on their own,” she said during a visit for meetings with her American counterpart James Mattis and White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

“I would be happy if you could help spread the word in the Beltway,” she said in a reference to the U.S. government.

Parly said the G5 Sahel force was meant to bolster the security capacity of Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania, which are all former French colonies.

French officials see the success of the G5 Sahel as a long-term exit strategy for Paris. For decades, France has mounted military operations in its former African colonies but in recent years it has looked to spread the cost.

Until now the G5 force has only received a quarter of its estimated 423 million euro budget, according to a report by the U.N. Secretary General, who said financing the operation would “remain a significant challenge” for several years.

“It will start its first operations soon. It needs support. The U.N. wants to give support. I hope everyone can become convinced that a robust U.N. assistance is necessary,” Parly said.

French defense officials say they expect the first G5 patrols to begin this month and hope that will provide momentum ahead of a donor conference in December.

Parly said that militants could flourish if financial backing for the G5 was not forthcoming.

Her visit also aimed to ascertain the political fallout from an ambush in Niger in early October that saw four U.S. special forces soldiers killed by jihadists.

U.S. troops called in French fighter jets for air support and French helicopters to evacuate several wounded soldiers.

(Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Many Nigerians displaced by Boko Haram fighting not ready to return home

Many Nigerians displaced by Boko Haram fighting not ready to return home

ABUJA (Reuters) – The vast majority of almost 2 million Nigerians driven from their homes by the conflict with Boko Haram cannot return because of a lack of security, an aid agency said on Wednesday.

About 1.8 million people have been displaced in Nigeria by the conflict with the Islamist insurgency, which has left at least 20,000 dead and shows little sign of ending as it drags into its ninth year.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said in a report that 86 percent of internally displaced people were not ready to return home in the immediate future. Insecurity is cited by 84 percent of them as the main reason for wanting to stay put, it said.

Only about six in 10 people said they wanted to return to their villages at some point, but could not do so now, the NRC report said.

Many of the displaced say they have tried to return home, only to be forced to flee back to safer camps and cities because of continued attacks by Boko Haram and general insecurity.

“While the end game is for communities to return home, the unfortunate truth is that pushing people back now will have harmful consequences,” Jan Egeland, NRC secretary general, said in a statement.

Although Boko Haram in recent months has increased its attacks on displaced people, they still feel safer in camps and urban centers than in their communities, said Egeland.

The Nigerian government and military have repeatedly said the insurgency has been “defeated”.

Despite that, Boko Haram has killed 381 civilians in Nigeria and Cameroon since the beginning of April, more than double the amount dead in the preceding five months, Amnesty International said last month.

The NRC survey did not take into account the roughly 200,000 refugees who have fled to neighboring countries such as Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

The humanitarian crisis in northern Nigeria is now one of the biggest in the world, with $1 billion needed to fund relief efforts in 2017, the United Nations says.

(Reporting by Paul Carsten; Editing by Alison Williams)

Nigeria set to start mass trial of Boko Haram suspects behind closed doors

ABUJA (Reuters) – The trial of more than 1,600 people suspected of ties with Boko Haram was expected to begin in Nigeria on Monday behind closed doors, in the biggest legal investigation into the eight-year militant Islamist insurgency.

More than 20,000 people have been killed and two million forced from their homes in northeastern Nigeria during the insurgency, contributing to what the United Nations has said is among the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Nigeria’s ministry of justice said last month the trial of around 1,670 people held at the Kainji detention facility would begin at the site, in the central Niger state, on Monday and would be presided over by four judges.

A spokesman for the ministry did not respond to requests for confirmation that the trial had begun. A military spokesman declined to comment, saying questions should be addressed to the judiciary.

The ministry has said that after the Kainji trials are completed, a further 651 people suspected of having links to Boko Haram and currently being held at prisons in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, would go on trial.

Clement Nwankwo, a human rights lawyer based in the capital, Abuja, said the trials would provide a more effective deterrent if they were open to the media and public.

“On the Boko Haram issue, stories need to be told for the public to be made aware what has been going on and understand the nature of the crimes committed,” said Nwankwo, adding that secrecy also made it hard to determine whether trials were fair.

“The Nigerian authorities have not been known to be diligent in investigating and properly prosecuting suspects,” he said, warning that a sense of injustice could breed resentment among relatives that could yield future radicalization.

SECRECY

However, Fatima Akilu – who headed the government’s counter violent extremism program under the previous administration – said secrecy was needed to encourage witnesses and judges to take part in the trials because Nigeria does not have a witness protection program.

“A lot of witnesses were afraid to come forward,” Akilu, who was based in the Office of the National Security Adviser from 2012 to 2015, said of previous efforts to pursue trials.

She said judges and witnesses had previously been subjected to death threats.

“If the witnesses don’t come forward there is limited evidence in terms of reaching a conviction, so I think there was little choice,” she said, adding that there were no clear alternatives in the absence of an amnesty program.

Nigeria’s handling of thousands of people accused of ties with Boko Haram insurgents has previously attracted criticism.

The legal process marks a steep escalation in the number of insurgency-related cases being handled by Nigerian authorities.

The Ministry of Justice has said that, as of Sept. 11, only 13 “terrorism cases” had been concluded and nine convictions had been secured.

“The decision to start the trials is a response to persistent complaints by local and international human rights groups over thousands of persons detained without access to lawyers and without any specific charges, said Nnamdi Obasi, of International Crisis Group.

(Reporting by Camillus Eboh, Paul Carsten and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Editing by Gareth Jones)

More than half of schools in Boko Haram’s region are shut, UNICEF says

ABUJA (Reuters) – More than half the schools in the state at the epicenter of Nigeria’s conflict with Boko Haram are still closed, the United Nations’ children agency said on Friday, as the insurgency drags into its ninth year.

The lack of schools could continue to fuel Boko Haram or similar movements in the future. Poor education for Nigeria’s restive northeastern youth left them with few prospects, driving them to join the Islamist insurgency, experts say.

The conflict has killed more than 20,000 people since 2009 and embroiled the region in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with at least 10.7 million people in need of assistance, according to the United Nations.

“In addition to devastating malnutrition, violence and an outbreak of cholera, the attacks on schools is in danger of creating a lost generation of children, threatening their and the countries future,” Justin Forsyth, a deputy director for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said in a statement.

Over 57 percent of schools are shut in Borno state, where most of the conflict and resulting crisis have taken place, as the new school year begins, the statement said. More than 2,295 teachers have been killed, at least 19,000 displaced and almost 1,400 schools destroyed, UNICEF said.

Despite aid agencies’ efforts to set up schools for children in the northeast, particularly those displaced by the insurgency, UNICEF said it has only received three-fifths of the total funding it needs for 2017.

Combined with climate change taking its toll in recent years on farming, a mainstay of the region, the lack of schooling has left many without job opportunities.

Nigeria’s northeast has been plagued by poor education for decades.

British colonialization in the 19th and first half of the 20th century ushered in priests who set up schools in the country’s south, which came to be religiously dominated by Christianity.

The partly autonomous northern regions, governed by Muslim rulers under Britain, saw fewer similar attempts, and, by 1950, northern Nigeria had produced one university graduate.

(Reporting by Paul Carsten, editing by Larry King)

Girl strapped with bomb kills five in Cameroon mosque

By Josiane Kouagheu

YAOUNDE (Reuters) – A girl with a bomb strapped to her walked into a mosque in northern Cameroon where it exploded, killing five worshippers in an attack bearing the hallmarks of Islamist militant group Boko Haram, authorities said.

The girl of 12 or 13 years old arrived at the Sanda-Wadjiri mosque in remote Kolofata at the first call to prayer at between five and six a.m., the governor of Cameroon’s Far North region Midjiyawa Bakary told Reuters by telephone.

“The men were bowed in prayer when she came,” Bakary said. “Five of the worshippers were killed and the bomber also.”

He did not name any suspects, but Boko Haram has repeatedly used suicide bombers as well as strapping children with explosives to strike at civilian and military targets.

The Nigerian jihadist group, which is now split into at least two factions, has been fighting for almost a decade to revive a medieval Islamic caliphate in the Lake Chad region, where Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad meet.

Allied forces from the four countries have routed it in much of the territory it once controlled, but the group has responded by scattering and stepping up attacks on civilians.

Amnesty International said last week that Boko Haram had killed 381 civilians in Nigeria and Cameroon since the beginning of April, more than double that for the preceding five months.

Of those, 158 of the deaths were in Cameroon, which the rights group linked to a rise in suicide bombings, the deadliest of which killed 16 people in Waza in July.

(Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Boko Haram resurgence kills 381 civilians since April: Amnesty

ABUJA (Reuters) – The Islamist militant group Boko Haram has killed 381 civilians in Nigeria and Cameroon since the beginning of April, rights group Amnesty International said on Tuesday, a testament to the militant group’s deadly resurgence.

The Nigerian military has repeatedly said Boko Haram has been “defeated”. But in recent months, it has carried out a string of lethal suicide bombings and other high-profile attacks on towns and an oil exploration team.

The number of deaths since April 1 is more than double that for the preceding five months, Amnesty said.

Boko Haram has killed 223 civilians in Nigeria since April. The forcing of women and girls to act as suicide bombers has driven the sharp rise in deaths in northeast Nigeria and northern Cameroon, said Amnesty.

“Boko Haram is once again committing war crimes on a huge scale, exemplified by the depravity of forcing young girls to carry explosives with the sole intention of killing as many people as they possibly can,” said Alioune Tine, Amnesty’s director for West and Central Africa.

In Nigeria, the deadliest attack was in July, when the militants abducted an oil exploration team with staff of the state oil firm and a university while they were traveling in a military convoy. Boko Haram killed 40 people and kidnapped three others, Amnesty said.

Boko Haram suicide bombers have killed 81 people in Nigeria since the start of April, said Amnesty.

In Cameroon, the Islamist insurgency has killed at least 158 people in the same period. That is also linked to a rise in suicide bombings, the deadliest of which killed 16 people in Waza in July, the rights group said.

More than 2.5 million people have been displaced or become refugees in the Lake Chad region – which includes Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad – while 7.2 million people lack secure access to food because of the conflict with Boko Haram, according to the United Nations.

The insurgency has left more than 20,000 people dead since it began in 2009.

(Reporting by Paul Carsten; editing by Andrew Roche)

Suspected Boko Haram members kill 18 people in northeast Nigeria

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Suspected Boko Haram militants killed 18 people in northeast Nigeria on Friday, according to local witnesses and officials, the latest in an escalating number of lethal attacks in the region.

The knife-wielding attackers, moving under cover of night, targeted people in the town of Banki, 80 miles (130 km) southeast of the city of Maiduguri in Borno state, the epicenter of the eight-year conflict with Boko Haram, said a community leader and a local member of a vigilante group.

The attack on the town, which sits on the border with Cameroon, is the latest in a string of deadly Boko Haram raids and bombings that have undermined the Nigerian military’s statements that the insurgency is all but defeated.

The frequency of attacks in northeastern Nigeria has increased in the last few months, killing at least 172 people since June 1 before Friday’s attack, according to a Reuters tally.

The attack on Banki left 18 dead, according to Modu Perobe, a member of the Civilian Joint Task Force, a regional vigilante group. Abor Ali, a local ruler, confirmed the death toll.

Boko Haram’s eight-year insurgency has left at least 20,000 dead and sparked one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world, with tens of thousands already in famine-like conditions, according to the United Nations.

Some 8.5 million people in the worst affected parts of northeast Nigeria are now in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, with 5.2 million people lacking secure access to food, the U.N. has said.

(Reporting by Ahmed Kingimi in Maiduguri; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Tom Brown)

Suspected Boko Haram militants kill 15 in Cameroon

DOUALA, Cameroon (Reuters) – Suspected Boko Haram militants sprayed a village in remote Cameroon with automatic fire, killing 15 people and kidnapping eight others in an overnight raid near the Nigerian border, several officials said on Friday.

The attackers burned down around 30 houses in Gakara village, just outside the town of Kolofata, which has been a frequent target of suicide bombings by the Islamist group.

A government source on the ground said that 15 people had been killed, all shot dead except one who was burned alive, while another 30 had suffered bullet wounds. The mayor of Kolofata and a senior military source confirmed that an attack had taken place but did not know the death toll.

Boko Haram attacks have killed more than 20,000 people and displaced 2.7 million during the group’s eight-year insurgency to carve out an Islamic caliphate in the Lake Chad region.

“The attack happened around midnight. The Boko Haram assailants arrived. They set 32 houses on fire … killed, pillaged, and traumatized the population,” said a district official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak.

Many people fled the village for a camp near Kolofata that houses thousands displaced by Boko Haram violence, he said.

(Reporting by Josiane Kouagheu; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Nigeria’s freed Chibok girls to return home ‘fully recovered’

Nigeria's freed Chibok girls to return home 'fully recovered'

By Paul Carsten

ABUJA (Reuters) – More than 100 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in the Nigerian town of Chibok in 2014 are ready to return to normal life after being released and receiving psychological and medical treatment, the government said on Friday.

Some 270 girls were originally abducted by the Islamist group but 82 were freed in May this year after mediation, adding to 24 who were released or found last year. The girls have been receiving psychological and medical care in the capital, Abuja, as part of a government rehabilitation program.

“All the 106 girls are now fully recovered, ready for re-integration with their families and the larger society, and to go back to school,” Aisha Jummai Alhassan, minister of women affairs, told a news conference.

“They are now stabilized and most of their traumatic stress disorder symptoms have been overcome and previously frequent incidents of flashbacks, insomnia and nightmares have now been successfully brought under control,” she said.

Some of them underwent surgery, and a prosthetic limb was provided for a girl who lost a leg while in captivity. Four babies were also said to be in good health.

Of the 270 girls who were originally taken, about 60 escaped soon afterwards but around 100 are still believed to be in captivity. Alhassan said negotiations to secure their release were ongoing.

Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people and displaced more than two million during an eight-year insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria.

The Chibok case provoked global outrage and a celebrity-backed campaign to raise awareness of the girls’ plight, but aid groups say Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands more adults and children, many of whose cases are neglected.

A United Nations human rights committee called in July for Nigeria’s government to step up efforts to rescue all women and girls abducted by Boko Haram and ensure they returned to school without stigma.

(Reporting by Paul Carsten; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Suicide bombers kill 27, wound 83 in northeast Nigeria

By Ahmed Kingimi

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – A woman suicide bomber blew herself up and killed 27 others at a market in northeast Nigeria on Tuesday, two local officials said, in an attack bearing the hallmark of Boko Haram militants.

Two more suicide bombers detonated their devices at the gates to a nearby refugee camp, wounding many people, an emergency services official said.

In all, 83 people were wounded in the three explosions near the city of Maiduguri, epicenter of the long-running conflict between government forces and Boko Haram.

Nigeria’s military last year wrested back large swathes of territory from the Islamist insurgents. But they have struck back with renewed zeal since June, killing at least 143 people before Tuesday’s bombings and weakening the army’s control.

The group has waged an eight-year war to create an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria, and provoked international outrage by kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls known as the Chibok Girls in April 2014.

Its better-known faction, led by Abubakar Shekau, has mainly based itself in the sprawling Sambisa forest, and been characterized by its use of women and children as suicide bombers targeting mosques and markets.

A rival faction – based in the Lake Chad region, led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi and boasting ties to Islamic State – has in the meantime quietly become a deadly force capable of carrying out highly-organised attacks.

Last month, an oil prospecting team was captured by al-Barnawi’s group. At least 37 people, including members of the team, died when rescuers from the military and vigilantes attempted to free them.

The Boko Haram insurgency has killed 20,000 people and forced some 2.7 million to flee their homes in the last eight years.

(Reporting by Ahmed Kingimi in Maiduguri; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)