Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin pledge to cooperate against militant group that has kidnapped 200 schoolgirls
|Nigeria's president Goodluck Jonathan and French president François Hollande|
leave the Élysée palace after the summit on Boko Haram. Photograph: Alain
African leaders at a summit in Paris have agreed on a regional plan of action to combat Boko Haram, the Islamist group that has abducted more than 200 girls and threatened to sell them into slavery.
In a rare show of unity, the leaders of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin pledged cooperation including joint border patrols and sharing intelligence to find the girls, snatched from Nigeria more than a month ago.
Nigeria has faced criticism for not having done enough to protect its people, particularly the girls, and for its slow response to the kidnappings.
The country's president, Goodluck Jonathan, described Boko Haram as a "terrorist organisation" and said it was part of an "al-Qaida operation".
The mini-summit, hosted by France, brought together presidents in the region to discuss how to come up with a united response to combat Boko Haram.
Earlier, the US department of defence suggested the Nigerian army was not capable of confronting Boko Haram alone.
"The division in the north that mainly is engaging with Boko Haram … has recently shown signs of real fear," said Alice Friend, the department's African affairs director. "They do not have the capabilities, the training or the equipment that Boko Haram does, and Boko Haram is exceptionally brutal and indiscriminate in their attacks."
Key to the success of the summit was the presence of Cameroon, Nigeria's neighbour, at the table. Relations between the two countries have been soured by a long-standing territorial dispute.
Representatives from the US, UK and EU were also present in Paris.
The UK foreign secretary, William Hague, said forging better relations between Nigeria and Cameroon was essential and neighbouring countries could provide practical help to search for the schoolgirls.
"This is a very important moment in the search for the schoolgirls that were abducted in Nigeria now nearly five weeks ago. To make sure we are doing everything we can in practical terms, working together," Hague said.
"We want to see the countries in the region work together more effectively – creating an intelligence fusion cell, conducting joint patrols and operations.
"The second focus is making sure there is a strategy to defeat Boko Haram more broadly. This is one sickening and terrible incident, but they continue almost every day to commit terrorist attacks and atrocities of other kinds. They have to be defeated in the region."
Boko Haram's ability to operate across vast areas of northern Nigeria is helped by the porous nature of the borders in the region.
There have been reports of the group carrying out attacks in Nigeria and escaping into Cameroon.
The French president, François Hollande, said: "Boko Haram has become a major threat for the whole of west Africa and now for central Africa."
He added that the organisation has been shown to have links with al-Qaida affiliates including al-Qaida in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) and other terrorist organisations.
"A global plan must be put into operation with the aim of exchanging informations and coordinating actions, controlling borders and acting in an appropriate way," Hollande said.
Nigeria and its neighbours pledged to reinforce security measures for those living in areas targeted by Boko Haram, carry out bilateral patrols and share operational intelligence to find the kidnapped girls and other snatched by the Islamist group.
A second summit at ministerial level will be held in London next month to report on what progress has been made.
As the summit took place, Boko Haram was reported to have killed one Chinese road worker and kidnapped 10 others between Friday night and Saturday morning in northern Cameroon.