Students from a South African school hold posters to support the release of the kidnapped girls in Nigeria. Photo: AP
YAOUNDE - A Cameroonian soldier has been killed and 10 Chinese nationals presumed kidnapped after an overnight attack in northern Cameroon believed to have been carried out by Boko Haram militants from Nigeria.
Militants stormed an encampment used by Chinese road workers in a region of northern Cameroon just across the border from the strongholds where they sparked global outrage by abducting more than 200 schoolgirls last month.
"Boko Haram Islamists attacked a camp (of road workers)... 10 Chinese cannot be found since the attack. We think they have probably been kidnapped," a local police chief said on condition of anonymity on Saturday.
The cross-border attack overnight on Friday comes as Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was in Paris for a meeting with the leaders of neighbouring states on forging a regional strategy against the Islamist group.
African leaders pledged on Saturday to wage "total war" on Boko Harem, the militant Islamist group who kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls, The Guardian reported.
The group is "acting clearly as an al-Qaida operation", the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, said at a summit of African leaders in Paris.
He said the threat posed by the militant group was now an international problem.
The French president, François Hollande, who is hosting the talks, said Boko Haram had links to al-Qaida and other terrorist organisations.
"Boko Haram is a major threat for all of western Africa and now central Africa with proven links to AQIM [al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb] and other terrorist organisations," he said.
"A comprehensive plan needs to be put in place from exchanging information to coordinating action and controlling borders."
William Hague said Nigerian security forces were not well structured to deal with the threat posed by Boko Haram, and he urged west African nations to put aside their differences to end rebel attacks.
"This is one sickening and terrible incident, but they continue almost every day to commit terrorist attacks and atrocities of other kinds, so they have to be defeated in the region," the UK foreign secretary said.
"We can help with that, which is why we are offering to embed military advisers within the Nigerian headquarters," he 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."
The presidents of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin were invited to the meeting in Paris, with representatives from France, the UK, the US and the European Union.
Hague said West African countries should set up a joint intelligence "fusion cell" to pool information in the hunt for the missing girls. "There are many borders here and they are porous borders," he said. "We need all of those countries to be bringing together their intelligence and information. This is very relevant to finding the schoolgirls, not just to the long-term defeat of Boko Haram."
The UK and US have offered help to Nigeria's search operation, and experts are already in the country. An RAF surveillance aircraft and a military team have also been offered.
In the latest attack, a source close to the Chinese embassy in Yaounde spoke of "10 Chinese missing" and "one wounded".
"Cameroonian soldiers retaliated and the fighting lasted until 3am," the officer said.
"The Boko Haram militants were heavily armed, they came in five vehicles," an official in Waza, near the site of the attack in a northern Cameroonian region near the Nigerian border, told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He said the camp where the Chinese road workers stayed was usually guarded by soldiers from Cameroon's elite Rapid Intervention Battalion.
"Their numbers were thinner these past few days because many of them had gone down to Yaounde" for the traditional military parade marking National Day on May 20, the official said.
The police officer said the militants also attacked the police post in Waza overnight and raided its armoury.
Additional reporting from The Guardian