•Paris says no deal with terrorists, orders citizens to leave north Cameroon
Military helicopters searched for a vacationing French family of seven kidnapped in Cameroon and security around the region is being increased amid tensions over France’s role in the region. Cameroonian President Paul Biya ordered tight security measures and urgent steps to free the hostages, who include four children.
They were kidnapped by armed gunmen in the country’s far north on Tuesday and whisked toward Nigeria. A ministry statement said the Cameroonian government is in contact with Nigerian and French authorities. Officials suggested the involvement of Boko Haram, one of Nigeria’s Islamic extremist sects. Nigeria’s borders were also put on red alert in the hunt for the kidnappers believed to be in the country or heading to the country, said Nigeria’s comptroller general of immigration, Rilwan Musa.
“We have already sent alert messages across the northeast borders and all other borders of the nation,” he said. “We have told our men to be on the alert. We have given the borders posts all the supports they need to tackle them whether in the day or at night.” Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said yesterday that France would not give in to “terrorists” after the kidnapping of seven members of a French family in northern Cameroon.
Yesterday, it urged its citizens to leave northern Cameroon. Seeming to exclude the possibility of paying a ransom, Fabius told the National Assembly: “We must do the maximum (to free the hostages) but nothing would be worse than yielding. We will not yield to terrorist groups.” France has said it suspects Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram was behind the abduction.
“There is every indication they were kidnapped to Nigeria. Everything also indicates that the perpetrators of this abduction” were Boko Haram, Fabius said. “This adds to the other hostage-takings. Sadly France is one the countries that is perhaps most affected by this,” he said. With the latest abduction, France has overtaken the United States as the country with the most number of hostages held abroad, with 15 nationals in captivity against nine Americans.
The family, a couple, their children aged five, eight, 10 and 12 and an uncle were snatched in northern Cameroon by six gunmen on three motorbikes on Tuesday and officials said they had been taken across the border into Nigeria.
With the latest abduction, France has overtaken the United States as the country with the most number of hostages held abroad, with 15 nationals in captivity against nine Americans. President Francois Hollande condemned the seizure as an “odious” act, saying: “This is the first time that children have been taken hostage in this manner.”
“We are doing everything with the help of authorities in Cameroon and Nigeria to find our compatriots,” government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem quoted President Francois Hollande as telling a cabinet meeting. The kidnapping came as thousands of French troops are deeply involved in a military intervention against Islamic extremists who had taken control of a big part of the West African country of Mali.
French President Francois Hollande, speaking at a Cabinet meeting yesterday, called it an “odious act” and expressed particular horror that children were involved, according to his government spokeswoman. France’s defense minister said yesterday that there was no proven link between the French operation in Mali and the Cameroon kidnapping. But, speaking on France-2 television, Jean-Yves Le Drian said: “These are groups who adhere to the same fundamentalism and who have the same methods, whether it is in Mali, in Somalia or in Nigeria, who want to create a lawless zone” stretching from the Atlantic across the southern edge of the Sahara to Sudan. France’s government warned French citizens to avoid travel in northern Cameroon after the kidnapping and urged anyone currently there to leave immediately.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot, in an online exchange with reporters Wednesday, said that in northern Cameroon, “There was never a security incident linked to terrorism; Nigerian terrorist groups had never carried out actions in this part of Cameroon.” A Cameroonian government official said military helicopters were being used in the search. ,The French gas group GDF Suez identified the captives as an employee working in the Cameroon capital of Yaounde and his family. French media says the children are between 5 and 12 years old. Cameroon state television cited government sources in the locality saying that the three adults have been separated from the four children.
The family was on tour at the Waza National Park in Cameroon’s Far-North Region before they were abducted at gunpoint by five gunmen aboard motorbikes, according to paramilitary sources in the area. A Cameroon government statement late Tuesday night said the hostages were abducted at Sabongari, seven kilometers from Dabanga, which flanks Cameroon’s frontier with Nigeria. The statement did not say whether the Cameroon government is in contact with the kidnappers.