Sat, Aug 11, 2012 - Page 7 News List

US plans for battling Nigerian Islamists

IMPOVERISHED OIL-RICH STATE:The US has urged the west African nation to combat extremists while also pressing for greater legal controls allowing oil firms clearer access

Reuters, ABUJA

The US wants to help Nigeria fight Islamists it sees as a growing regional menace, but it cannot rely on military might alone, an official travelling with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

Clinton arrived in Africa’s most populous nation on Thursday offering to help Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan fight Boko Haram, a militant group that wants to establish a strict Islamic state in the north of the vast west African country.

Boko Haram has launched bomb and gun attacks on churches this year that provoked Christians to deadly reprisals against Muslims. Hundreds of people have died and Washington is concerned about insecurity spreading.

“Northern Nigeria also borders Chad, it borders Cameroon, it borders Niger and we are concerned this radicalism could undermine the security of neighboring states,” the senior US official said.

Jonathan’s critics say he is over-reliant on the military to defeat Boko Haram, rather than addressing northerners’ grievances, such as poverty and unemployment and Clinton is set to lean on him to address the underlying causes of the insurgency.

“A security strategy is not enough,” the official said.

Military crackdowns have had mixed results — reducing Boko Haram’s capabilities in some areas, but also generating anger because of the heavy handedness of the operations.

Washington will offer Nigeria help with things like forensics, tracking of suspects and “fusing” disparate strands of police and military intelligence, the US official said.

“We know all too well from our own experiences in both Iraq and Afghanistan what can happen if soldiers and police are not operating under appropriate authorities,” he said. “We will encourage them not to use excessive force and to look at this as a ... law enforcement operation designed to catch perpetrators and bring them to justice.”

Clinton will also address a law on oil production that has been stuck in parliament for more than five years leaving global oil majors such as Exxon and Chevron uncertain about the regulatory future in Africa’s biggest crude producer.

The official said Clinton would urge a “fair and predictable environment” for oil companies in the Petroleum Industry Bill.

“If a bill comes out which appears to undermine the interest of companies, they won’t invest,” the official said.

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