BEIRUT- International efforts have widened to trace more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Islamists militants in Nigeria, while France has called for African leaders to hold a summit focused on the issue.
Israel on Sunday joined the bid to find the 223 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram fighters in Nigeria’s restive northeast four weeks ago, but Washington said US troops would stay out of any rescue mission.
“There’s no intention, at this point, to (put) American boots on the ground,” US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told ABC television, admitting that finding the girls would be no easy task.
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by telephone and accepted an offer for assistance in finding the girls, who were kidnapped from their school dormitory in the town of Chibok, Borno state, on April 14.
Jonathan told Netanyahu that “Nigeria would be pleased to have Israel’s globally acknowledged anti-terrorism expertise deployed to support its ongoing operations”, according to the president’s spokesman Reuben Abati.
Britain, the United States and France have already sent specialist teams and equipment to help Nigeria’s military in the search concentrated in the remote northeast, which has been hit by five years of deadly violence.
French President Francois Hollande said a summit on security in west Africa, focusing on Boko Haram, could be held as early as this Saturday “if the countries agree”.
“I suggested, with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, a meeting of Nigeria’s neighbouring countries,” he said on Sunday during a visit to Azerbaijan’s capital Baku.
The leaders of at least five African countries, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin, may take part, a source close to the president said.
US First Lady Michelle Obama, in a recorded message on Saturday, described the kidnappings as “unconscionable”, adding to condemnation from governments, religious leaders of all faiths, Hollywood celebrities, business figures and ordinary people around the world.
The leader of the world’s Anglicans, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, warned that dealing with Boko Haram would be fraught with danger, as his opposite number in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, pledged his support for the girls’ return.
Welby, an oil executive before joining the Church, has experience of negotiating with violent groups in the oil-producing Niger Delta region in southern Nigeria.
He told BBC radio in an interview that the girls faced a “colossal” risk.
“They’re in the hands of a very disparate group which is extremely irrational and difficult to deal with, and utterly merciless in the example it’s shown in the past,” he said.
Negotiating would be “extremely complicated” because of Boko Haram’s disparate structure, while poverty and mass unemployment in mainly Muslim north Nigeria -- factors seen as fuelling support for the group -- have to be addressed, he added.