Kidnappings at Chinese Work Site Point to Boko Haram, UK Offers Nigeria Military Advisors

Goodluck Jonathan
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan speaks to the media in Abuja on May 9, 2014. Jonathan said he believes the 200 abducted schoolgirls are still in his country and have not been moved to Cameroon. Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

(Reuters) - Britain is offering to send advisers to help Nigeria's military structure its efforts to fight Boko Haram, Foreign Minister William Hague said on Saturday, ahead of a meeting to hammer out a strategy to tackle the Islamist group.

West African leaders are meeting in Paris to try to improve cooperation in their fight against the group which last month kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls and threatens to destabilize the wider region.

Outrage over the girls has prompted Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, criticized at home for his government's slow response, to accept U.S., British and French intelligence help in the hunt for the girls.

"Nigerian security forces have not been well structured for this kind of thing and that has been shown by the problem getting worse," Hague told reporters ahead of the meeting.

"We can help with that which is why we are offering to embed military advisers within the Nigerian headquarters."

U.S. officials have said the effort to retrieve the girls is now a top priority, but has been complicated by Nigeria's early reluctance to accept assistance, and U.S. rules banning aid to foreign forces that have committed human rights abuses.

"It is very important (Nigeria) upholds high standards of human rights and are well coordinated in their actions," Hague said. "Nigeria has the main responsibility and must be the leading nation in tackling this and that includes to mount an effective security response and improve development."

France, itself a target of Islamist militants for its military intervention against rebels in Mali, is bringing together Nigeria's neighbors Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin, and Western officials.

COOPERATION

With about 6,000 troops operating in either Mali to the northwest or the Central African Republic to the east, Paris has a major interest in preventing Nigeria's security deteriorating.

It fears Boko Haram could spread north into the Sahel, and beyond Cameroon into the Central African Republic.

French diplomats have ruled out any Western military operation but said they expected a regional plan to take shape for countering Boko Haram.

Suspected Boko Haram rebels from Nigeria attacked a Chinese work site in northern Cameroon on Friday and at least 10 people are believed to have been kidnapped, the regional governor said on Saturday.

The group has killed more than 3,000 people in a five-year campaign to establish an Islamic state in mostly Muslim northeast Nigeria.

With Nigeria's large and well-funded army seemingly unable to quell the threat from Boko Haram, many fear that impoverished Niger and an increasing lawless northern Cameroon could struggle to deal with a serious attack.

Nigeria has complained the far north of Cameroon is being used by Boko Haram militants to shelter from a Nigerian military offensive and to transport weapons, and has urged Cameroon to tighten border security.

"The first focus is about the girls, but that requires these countries work together particularly Cameroon and Nigeria who have not enjoyed strong, positive relations in recent years," Hague said.

(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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