African leaders to hold Boko Haram summit April 8

ABUJA, Nigeria (UPDATED) – Central and west African leaders will hold a summit next week to fine tune their campaign to crush Boko Haram, who appear to be losing ground in the face of a regional military offensive.

The April 8 talks will be the first since Nigeria's election a week ago which was won by Muhammadu Buhari, a former military leader who has vowed to rid his country of the "terror" the Islamist militants have sown.

Boko Haram, whose rampage through northeastern Nigeria has left more than 15,000 people dead since 2009, is the region's most pressing security problem, having sent refugees fleeing across borders and displaced tens of thousands within Nigeria.

The west African regional bloc ECOWAS said in a statement Sunday, April 5, that the meeting in the Equatorial Guinea capital Malabo came "in the face of the mounting and increasingly bloody attacks by the fundamentalists against Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad."

The Malabo summit is being jointly organised by ECOWAS and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).

Experts from both groups held a preliminary meetings in Cameroon's economic capital Douala to prepare ground for the summit, ECOWAS said.

They tried to fine tune strategy to "eradicate" the group, the statement added, and discussed regional coordination of military strategy and other matters.

Fight to the finish

Buhari's historic election win was partly due to outgoing president Goodluck Jonathan's failure to tackle the insurgency, which has sparked worldwide concern.

"I assure you that Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will and commitment to rid this nation of terror and bring back peace," Buhari said last week.

He later told the BBC: "With the cooperation of our neighbors, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and the international community, and the commitment we are going to get from the military, I think it will take us a much shorter time to deal with them."

A coalition involving troops from the 4 countries has been battling the Islamists in a bid to crush the insurgency, which has now spread across borders from Boko Haram's stronghold in northern Nigeria.

The general staff of the Chadian army last week said the nuisance capacity of Boko Haram has been severed reduced by the offensive, although their Nigerien colleagues believe the group still has the ability to wage an "asymmetric war" through suicide attacks and hit-and-run raids.

According to some experts, a major stumbling block in the fight against the group had hitherto been poor intelligence sharing between Nigeria and its neighbors, although this appears to have improved after a joint military force involving the 4 countries was launched.

It was not immediately clear if Buhari would be attending the summit, as he will not be sworn in as president to succeed Jonathan until May 29.

UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein last week led an appeal for stronger international support in the fight against the group after the UN Human Rights Council unanimously adopted a resolution to this effect.

"Countless more children, women and men have been abducted, abused and forcibly recruited, and women and girls have been targeted for particularly horrific abuse, including sexual enslavement," Zeid said.

"This despicable and wanton carnage, which constitutes a clear and urgent menace for development, peace and security, must be stopped," Zeid said.

The group recently pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State group of jihadists fighting in Iraq and Syria. – Cecile De Comarmond, AFP/Rappler.com