YAOUNDE (Reuters) - Suspected Boko Haram rebels from Nigeria have attacked a Chinese work site in northern Cameroon, killing at least one Cameroonian soldier while 10 Chinese workers were missing and believed to have been abducted, officials and state media said.
The Chinese embassy in Yaounde confirmed the attack on Friday at a site near the town on Waza, 20 km (12 miles) from the Nigerian border close to the Sambisa forest, a Boko Haram stronghold.
Chinese Embassy political counselor Lu Qingjiang said one Chinese worker was injured in the attack and 10 were missing, China’s Xinhua state news agency reported.
Ten vehicles belonging to China’s state-run construction company Sinohydro, which is repairing roads in Cameroon, were also taken in the attack, Xinhua said.
Lu called on the Cameroonian authorities to “not put the lives of Chinese nationals missing in danger in case actions of liberation be launched”, Xinhua said.
The Islamist group kidnapped more than 200 girls from a school on the Nigerian side of the border last month and Nigerian troops backed by foreign units are searching the area around the forest for them.
Friday’s incident began when power was cut in the evening. A five-hour gunfight followed, a guard at the Waza National Park told Reuters.
“Some of us decided to hide in the forest with the animals,” the guard said, requesting anonymity.
The governor of Cameroon’s Far North Region, Augustine Fonka Awa, said earlier he believed Boko Haram had carried out the attack. Authorities were investigating reports that at least one Cameroon soldier was killed and 10 people were abducted, he said.
Cameroon state radio said in a report from the region that a
Cameroon special forces soldier was killed. It said four others including two soldiers were seriously wounded.
As well as at least 10 vehicles, the rebels took a container of explosives belonging to the Chinese company, it said.
In a meeting in Paris on Saturday to improve cooperation in the fight against Boko Haram and other militant groups, French President Francois Hollande said it was becoming a threat to all of West and Central Africa.
Boko Haram has staged several attacks in northern Cameroon during its five-year fight to set up an Islamist state. Last month, it attacked a police post killing two people. The rebels kidnapped a French family in February 2013.
Sinhohydro’s vice general manager, Lan Ronghe, was quoted by Xinhua as saying the man wounded in the attacks was shot twice, in the shoulder and the abdomen, in the attack on his camp near the Waza park, Xinhua said, citing Lan.
The Chinese embassy suspended visits to the area.
“For companies operating in the northern part of Cameroon in particular, they should instantly start security contingency plans,” the embassy said in a statement.
At least two Chinese enterprises operate in the region. Xinhua said an engineering unit of Sinohydro operated the camp.
Yan Chang Logone Development Holding Company, a subsidiary of China’s Yanchang Petroleum, is exploring for oil.
Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, who is attending the Paris summit, said Boko Haram was becoming not only a regional problem, but also a Western one. Two Italian priests and a Canadian nun were kidnapped in April.
“They have committed one more attack. They attacked businessmen and this comes after the French hostages were kidnapped. As we speak, we are searching for the Italian priests and Canadian nun,” Biya said.
Nigerian authorities say Cameroon has not done enough to secure its border because Boko Haram has been using the sparsely populated Far North Region as a transit route for weapons and as a base for attacks in northeastern Nigeria.
Cameroon said in March it would send 700 soldiers to the border as part of regional efforts to tackle the armed group.
Outrage over the kidnapping of the schoolgirls has prompted Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, criticized at home for his government’s slow response, to accept U.S., British and French intelligence help in the hunt for the girls.
Additional reporting by Anne-Mireille Nzouankeu in Yaounde, Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Bate Felix in Abuja; Chen Aizhu and Sui-Lee Wee in Beijing and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Alison Williams and Robert Birsel