CAMEROON’S air force attacked Boko Haram positions in the far north of the country for the first time after the jihadists seized a military camp, the government announced.
President Paul Biya personally ordered Sunday’s air strike, which forced the Boko Haram insurgents from neighbouring Nigeria to flee the camp at Assighasia, Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary said in a statement late Sunday.
“Fighter planes went into action for the first time since the start of the conflict” on Cameroon’s side of the border, after several months of deadly raids on troops and civilians by Boko Haram, Bakary added.
“After two strikes and heavy fire…the assailants fled the Assighasia camp…losing several fighters,” the minister said, adding that military operations were still under way and that “the toll from combat will be released once the operational evaluation is complete”.
The extremists of Boko Haram, which roughly means “Western education is forbidden”, have become a deadly force to be reckoned with since 2009 in northern Nigeria and have made raids into neighbouring Cameroon.
Escalation of response
Boko Haram tactics include massacres of civilians on both sides of the frontier, the razing of villages, large-scale kidnappings and, most recently, direct assaults on Cameroonian troops.
A Boko Haram squad assaulted the Assighasia camp on Sunday morning and the “Cameroonian defence forces had to withdraw after trying to defend the position”, the government statement said.
The air strike marked “a new escalation in the Cameroonian response…to multiple enemy attacks by the Boko Haram terrorist group”, it said.
Meanwhile in a group of 155 Rwandan Hutu rebels turned themselves in on Sunday in the face of threatened action by UN and Congolese troops as part of efforts to restore calm in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) restive east.
The rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known as the FDLR, surrendered to authorities in North Kivu province in the DR Congo, said provincial deputy governor Feller Lutaichirwa.
However, many other rebels are believed to remain at large with less than a week to go before a January 2 deadline to surrender.
The international community has given the FDLR until then to turn themselves in or face action by the Congolese army and the UN peacekeeping mission in the country.
The FDLR is thought to include between 1,500 and 2,000 fighters, including those suspected of having participated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
They are opposed to the President Paul Kagame-led government in Kigali and have for years been based in neighbouring eastern DR Congo, where they have been accused of conscripting child soldiers and of brutal attacks against residents, including rapes and murders.
In May, 97 FDLR members surrendered in North Kivu, followed by another group of 83 in South Kivu in June.
Decades of conflict
On Sunday, a total of 155 rebels surrendered. An initial group of 83 fighters arrived in civilian clothes and turned in 37 weapons in the town of Buleusa in North Kivu. They were accompanied by 38 wives and children.
Another 72 fighters surrendered later in Burhinyi in South Kivu according to aid groups in the area, accompanied by 168 women and children.
A further 17 fighters were said to be on their way to Buleusa to turn themselves in.
UN officials have pushed for the disarming of rebel groups after two decades of conflict in the eastern DR Congo, much of it fuelled by the lucrative trade in minerals.