A cabin at the Waza natural Park, in northern Cameroon, where seven French tourists were kidnapped. Photo: AFP
MAIDUGURI: Cameroonian President Paul Biya ordered "all measures" be taken to find the kidnappers of seven French tourists, as an official said the French military is helping hunt for the assailants.
The tourists, including four children, were seized Wednesday at the village of Dabanga, about 960 kilometres northeast of the capital, Yaounde, after visiting the Waza National Park in the Far North Region that borders Nigeria and Chad. They have been taken to Maiduguri in northern Nigeria, Far North Region Governor Awah Fonka Augustine said.
"A contingent of French military has already arrived in Dabanga by air and is working in collaboration with Cameroonian forces to track down the four assailants," Mr Augustine said. Nigerian troops are on alert to intercept the gunmen if they're seen in the country's territory, Sagir Musa, a military spokesman, said Wednesday.
The kidnappings came a day after an Islamist group in Nigeria claimed responsibility for taking seven foreigners hostage at a construction site in the northern state of Bauchi. The hostages, including three Lebanese, a Filipino, a UK national, a Greek and an Italian, work for Setraco Nigeria Ltd., Hassan Mohammed, a police spokesman, said on February 17.
Jamaatu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladissudan, or "Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in the Land of the Blacks," the group that took the construction workers hostage, said that its action was in response to "the transgressions and atrocities done to the religion of Allah" by European nations in countries such as Mali and Afghanistan.
France has about 4000 troops in Mali, where it intervened to fight Islamists and rebel forces to restore state control over a nation that vies with Tanzania as Africa's third-biggest gold producer. Fighting between French special forces and Islamist militants is now in the "final phase" and France will start withdrawing troops in a few weeks, Defense Minister Jean- Yves Le Drian said. He wouldn't say if the attack in Cameroon is linked to French intervention in Mali.
GDF Suez SA, the French utility that's building a liquid natural gas project in southern Cameroon, said the kidnapped tourists include one of its employees and family.
"Nothing would be worse than conceding to the terrorists," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said during a parliamentary debate in Paris Wednesday.
French President Francois Hollande said security was being stepped up in Africa for his country's nationals.
"The Cameroon government remains in permanent contact with the Nigerian and French governments," Cameroon's External Relations Ministry said. "All is being put in place to guarantee the security of foreigners, notably tourists in Cameroon."
Nigerian troops along the northeastern border with Cameroon have been made aware of the attack on tourists, said military spokesman Mr Musa. "We're not leaving anything to chance in our quest to flush out the terrorists."