YAOUNDE, CAMEROON – A multinational force of troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria, on Thursday handed five children rescued from Boko Haram over to Cameroon. The Multinational Joint Task Force of the Lake Chad Basin Commission says scores of children were rescued last year in operations against the militant group. Cameroonian authorities are working to locate the children’s parents.
The Multinational Joint Task Force of the Lake Chad Basin, or MNJTF, that is fighting the jihadist group, says the five children it handed to Cameroonian authorities on Thursday were rescued by Chadian troops.
The children were handed over to government officials in Mora, a town in Cameroon’s Far North region on the border with Chad and Nigeria.
The task force said Chadian troops found the five boys in the volatile Lake Chad basin, looking unkempt, tired, hungry and sick.
The task force commander, Nigerian Major General Abdul Kalifa Ibrahim, said the teenage children spent several months in Boko Haram captivity. He spoke on Cameroon’s state broadcaster CRTV.
‘They were unfortunate to be abducted by Boko Haram, but they were able to escape,’ said Ibrahim. ‘Chadian soldiers found out they are Cameroonian children. We are going to carry out more operations. Our hope is for the Boko Harams themselves to come out and say this is enough.’
Cameroon says 25 out of the 60 children transferred to the country by the joint forces in the past three weeks were either saved by the military during operations or escaped from Boko Haram camps and surrendered to troops from Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria fighting the jihadists.
The task force says scores of the children were rescued last year in a military operation that killed 800 militants in lake Chad basin. The children were kept in Chad about 8 months for psychological care and to determine where they were from.
The government says the children range in age from 9 to 17 years old.
The governor of Cameroon’s Far North region, Midjiyawa Bakari, says Cameroonian President Paul Biya has ordered that the children be provided with food, medical care and an education while their parents are being found. He spoke to VOA via a messaging app from Maroua, capital of Cameroon’s Far North region.
Bakari says Cameroon has well-constructed centers for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, or DDR, in Meri and Mora, northern towns on the border with Chad and Nigeria. He says the children will be enrolled in a school at the DDR center in Mora. Bakari says Cameroons medical staff members are at DDR centers ready to attend to the health needs of the children.
Bakari said in 2021, Cameroon successfully hosted more than 2,000 former Boko Haram militants including 950 Nigerians and about a hundred Chadians who defected from the jihdist group.
In June 2022, the Multinational Joint Task Force said 3,000 troops killed 800 jihadis on Lake Chad’s islands and neighboring areas between March 28 and June 4 in an operation called Lake Sanity.
Officials of the force said they were investigating the countries of origins of several hundred children who were rescued in the operations.
The troops say parents of some of the children may have been killed in battles with jihadist groups or have remained in Boko Haram camps as militants or captives.
The Lake Chad basin stretches across the borders of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad.
The multinational force with troops from Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad says although attacks have been drastically reduced, Boko Haram and another group, the Islamic State West Africa Province, have established bases in the vast Lake Chad basin.
According to the U.N., 36,000 people have been killed and 3 million have fled their homes in Cameroon, Nigeria and Chad since 2009 when the fighting deteriorated into an armed conflict with Nigerian government troops.
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