West African leaders will seek authority next week from the African Union to create a multinational force to fight Nigeria’s Boko Haram Muslim extremists, Ghanaian President John Mahama told reporters on Friday.
Any such force would represent the most robust international response yet to the extremists who have killed thousands of people over the past year in their campaign for a self-described Muslim caliphate and who have also launched cross-border attacks into Niger and Cameroon.
Boko Haram is seen as the most serious security threat to Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and its biggest energy producer, but Mahama said the group and militants in Somalia, Kenya, Mali and elsewhere posed a wider risk.
“Terrorism is like a cancer, and if we do not deal with it, it will keep going. It threatens everybody in the subregion. When it comes to terrorism, nobody is too far or too near,” he said.
It is likely to take months before an African Union force could be set up, and key issues such as who would command it, the location of its headquarters and its financing remain undecided, he said.
However, the African Union could seek a UN Security Council mandate to take over the force after it is set up, as happened in Sudan’s Darfur region, he said.
Mahama was speaking as current chair of West African regional bloc the Economic Community of West African States, which has been accused of not doing enough to combat Boko Haram.
“Nigeria is taking military action and Cameroon is fighting Boko Haram, but I think we are increasingly getting to the point where probably a regional or a multinational force is coming into consideration,” he said earlier.
Earlier, Boko Haram militants seized the military base and town of Baga, in Nigeria, on the shores of Lake Chad, on Jan. 3. Baga was the headquarters of a planned — and stalled — force intended to fight the insurgents, with troops from Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
France must do more against Boko Haram, French President Francois Hollande told French and foreign ambassadors in Paris.
“Today, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin are threatened, and this situation means the international community must take appropriate action and cannot let this be,” he said.
France said last month that it would help coordinate a regional task force against Boko Haram, given signs of mistrust among West African neighbors.
Cameroonian President Paul Biya this month appealed for military help against Boko Haram.
On Friday, US Ambassador to Cameroon Michael Stephen Hoza said Washington would help train local soldiers and offered equipment for the fight.
Russian Ambassador to Cameroon Nikolay Ratsiborinski said Moscow would supply equipment, training and arms, as well as humanitarian assistance.
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