DAKAR Cameroon has deployed some 1,000 troops and armoured vehicles to its border region with Nigeria as it steps up its military presence to counter a rising threat from Boko Haram Islamist militants, a defence ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.
Boko Haram, which has outraged international opinion with the abduction of some 200 schoolgirls in northern Nigeria seven weeks ago, has also carried out several attacks and kidnappings in northern Cameroon.
Lieutenant Colonel Didier Badjeck said about 1,000 Special Forces of Cameroon's rapid intervention brigade (BIR) left the capital on Monday. Several new generation armoured vehicles were deployed three days earlier, he said.
"Their mission will be to carry out reconnaissance and be ready to respond with enough fire power," Badjeck told Reuters by telephone from Yaounde. "They are patrolling in northern region at the moment."
Badjeck said the deployment was part of Cameroon's effort to increase its military presence in the border region. It had already deployed an additional 700 troops under a joint regional effort to fight Boko Haram, announced in March.
Nigeria's military said on Monday it knew the whereabouts of the more than 200 abducted schoolgirls, but it ruled out using force to rescue them. Boko Haram has killed thousands during its five-year insurgency in Africa's top oil producer and largest economy.
Abuja accepted help from the United States, Britain, France and China last week and around 80 U.S. troops have started arriving in neighbouring Chad to start a mission to try to free the girls. Surveillance drones are scanning the Sambisa forest, where parents say the girls were last sighted.
Nigeria has complained in the past that Cameroon was not doing enough to secure its Far North region which it said is being used by Boko Haram militants to shelter from a Nigerian military offensive and to transport weapons.
Leaders of Nigeria and neighbouring Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin met in Paris on May 17 with Western officials to flesh out a plan to coordinate their actions against the militant group, which they said threatens the security of the whole region.
Boko Haram is suspected of attacking a Chinese workers camp in northern Cameroon this month. Ten Chinese workers are still missing following the attack.
(Editing by Daniel Flynn)