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The Star Online: World Updates

Gunmen abduct 8 more girls in Nigeria; U.S. pledges help in search

Posted: 06 May 2014 07:00 PM PDT

MAIDUGURI Nigeria (Reuters) - Suspected Boko Haram gunmen kidnapped eight girls from a village near one of the Islamists' strongholds in northeastern Nigeria overnight, while the United States made plans on Tuesday to help search for more than 200 schoolgirls seized by the militant group last month.

"We're going to do everything we can to provide assistance to them," U.S. President Barack Obama told NBC News in an interview on Tuesday. "In the short term our goal is obviously to help the international community, and the Nigerian government, as a team to do everything we can to recover these young ladies."

In a separate interview with ABC News, Obama called the kidnappings heartbreaking and outrageous.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened in a video released to the media on Monday to sell the girls abducted from a secondary school on April 14 "on the market".

The kidnappings by the Islamists, who say they are fighting for an Islamic state in Nigeria, have shocked a country long inured to the violence around the northeast.

They have also embarrassed the government before a World Economic Forum meeting on Africa, the annual gathering of the wealthy and powerful, in Abuja from May 7 to 9.

Nigerian officials had hoped the event would highlight their country's potential as Africa's hottest investment destination since it became the continent's biggest economy from a GDP recalculation in March. The forum has instead been overshadowed by the crisis over the girls, whose whereabouts remain a mystery.

That has thrown the government's failings on national security into the spotlight just when it sought to parade its achievements such as power privatisation and economic stability to top global business people and politicians.

Police and residents said the eight girls kidnapped overnight were aged 12 to 15.

Lazarus Musa, a resident of the village of Warabe, told Reuters that armed men had opened fire during the raid.

"They were many, and all of them carried guns. They came in two vehicles painted in army colour. They started shooting in our village," Musa said by telephone from the village in the hilly Gwoza area, Boko Haram's main base.

A police source, who asked not to be identified, said the girls were taken away on trucks, along with looted livestock and food.

Boko Haram, the main security threat to Africa's leading energy producer, is growing bolder and appears better armed than ever.

"Many people tried to run behind the mountain, but when they heard gunshots, they came back," Musa said. "The Boko Haram men were entering houses, ordering people out of their houses."

In a separate attack early on Monday, suspected Boko Haram gunmen shot or hacked to death at least 13 people in a raid on a market town in the northeast, a survivor said.

April's mass kidnapping occurred on the day a bomb blast, also claimed by Boko Haram, killed 75 people on the edge of Abuja, the first attack on the capital in two years. Another bomb in roughly the same place killed 19 people last week.


Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan welcomed the U.S. offer to send an American team to Nigeria to support the government's efforts to find the girls, the Obama administration said on Tuesday. (Full Story)

Obama told ABC the kidnappings "may be the event that helps to mobilize the entire international community to finally do something against this horrendous organization that's perpetrated such a terrible crime."

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters the United States was sending an "interdisciplinary team" including military personnel to help in the search.

The United Nations warned Boko Haram that if the group carried out its leader's threat to sell the girls, it would forever be liable to prosecution for war crimes, even decades after the event. (Full Story)

"We warn the perpetrators that there is an absolute prohibition against slavery and sexual slavery in international law. These can ... constitute crimes against humanity," U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said in Geneva.

The military's inability to find the girls in three weeks has led to protests in the northeast, Abuja and Lagos, the commercial capital.

British Foreign Minister William Hague reiterated an offer of help to Nigeria on Tuesday, after calling the abductions "disgusting and immoral". (Full Story)

Worsening violence so close to the capital has also put the spotlight on security arrangements for the World Economic Forum, with a few delegates cancelling, although organisers still expect most to arrive as planned.

Police and military units were deployed outside the Sheraton hotel. A black pickup truck carrying four men dressed in black with sub-machineguns patrolled, then sped off.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Michael Shields in London and Steve Holland in Washington; Writing by Tim Cocks and Peter Cooney; Editing by David Stamp, Anna Willard, Will Waterman, Andrew Hay and Mohammad Zargham)

China condemns Vietnamese 'harassment' of ship in disputed waters

Posted: 06 May 2014 06:30 PM PDT

HONG KONG (Reuters) - China has warned Vietnam not to disturb activities of Chinese companies operating near disputed islands in the South China Sea, after Hanoi condemned as illegal the movement of a giant Chinese oil rig into what it says is its territorial water.

The United States on Tuesday sharply criticized the movement of the deep sea oil rig, calling it "provocative and unhelpful to the maintenance of peace and stability in the region".

The relocation of the oil rig by China's state-run oil company is the latest show of Beijing's growing assertiveness, which is raising alarm among smaller countries in the region.

China's State Councilor Yang Jiechi told Vietnam's deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Pham Binh Minh, that Chinese firms operating in the Paracel Islands, which the Chinese call the Xisha Islands, are within the mandate of China's sovereignty and should not be subject to interference, according to a statement posted on the Chinese foreign ministry's website late on Tuesday.

Vietnamese harassment of Chinese companies conducting normal activities violated China's sovereignty and administration rights, Yang, the country's top diplomat, said in a telephone call to Minh.

The incident came days after U.S. President Barack Obama visited Asia to underline his commitment to allies there, including Japan and the Philippines who are themselves locked in territorial disputes with China.

Obama, promoting a strategic "pivot" toward the Asia-Pacific region, also visited South Korea and Malaysia, but not China.

Daniel Russel, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said the United States was looking into the oil rig matter, but urged caution from all sides.

"We believe that it is critically important for each of the claimant countries to exercise care and restraint," he told Reuters during a visit to Hong Kong ahead of a previously scheduled trip to Hanoi on Wednesday.

"The global economy is too fragile and regional stability is too important to be put at risk over short term economic advantage."

China claims almost the entire oil- and gas-rich South China Sea, rejecting rival claims to parts of it from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. It also has a separate maritime dispute with Japan.


Its claims coincide with growing diplomatic and military influence in the region and have raised fears of possible conflict.

The Maritime Safety Administration of China (MSAC) announced on its website on Saturday that all vessels should keep one mile (1.6 km) away from the rig, called the Haiyang Shiyou 981. It expanded that to three miles on Monday.

The $1 billion rig is owned by China's state-run CNOOC oil company and it had been drilling south of Hong Kong.

On Sunday, Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokesman objected to the Chinese announcement, saying the coordinates of the oil rig put it in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf, about 120 nautical miles off its coast.

The spokesman, Le Hai Binh, said in a statement Vietnam "resolutely opposed" the Chinese company's drilling.

But, like other Asian nations involved in territorial disputes with China, Vietnam appears to have limited options when dealing with the emerging superpower.

The Philippines said last month that the United States had a treaty obligation to help in case of an attack on its territory or armed forces in the South China Sea, although Obama did not say categorically that Washington would do so.

In 1992, Vietnam sent naval vessels into an area where China signed a contract with a U.S. firm to develop oil and gas in what it said were its waters.

"From 1992 until now, I haven't seen any action from Vietnam stronger than that," said a Vietnamese academic who specializes in South China Sea affairs.

"...My guess is either this action from China is to send a message to the United States after Obama's Asia visit, or to direct the community to this topic to distract them from the terror in Xinjiang."

China's nervousness about Islamist militancy has grown since a car burst into flames on the edge of Beijing's Tiananmen Square in October and 29 people were stabbed to death in March in the southwestern city of Kunming.

The government blamed militants from the far-western region of Xinjiang for both attacks.


China routinely sends patrols into the South China Sea, mostly involving the coast guard and civilian maritime protection force rather than the navy.

But the positioning of such a large structure in disputed waters was seen by some analysts as a significant escalation in the dispute.

Singapore-based South China Sea expert Ian Storey said the rig movement risked a "potentially very dangerous scenario".

"There have been standoffs with survey ships in the past, but this is something new," said Storey of the Institute of South East Asian Studies.

"There's been a great deal of speculation about how China would use this expensive new rig and it seems we now have the answer. It puts Vietnam in a very difficult position.

"They will have to respond to a challenge to their sovereignty, and when they do, China will be sure to make a counter move, so we are in a situation where a potentially very dangerous scenario could unfold."

China's Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, wrote in an editorial on Tuesday that China should show a "firm attitude" towards Vietnam.

"China follows a moderate policy. But no country can always show a smiling face to the world. China shouldn't be angered easily, but if its interests are infringed upon, a strong retaliatory move should be expected," it said.

(Additional reporting Nguyen Phuong Linh in Hano Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Gabriel Wildau in Shanghai; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Michael Perry)

Niger arrests fourteen suspected Boko Haram gunmen after patrol ambushed

Posted: 06 May 2014 05:35 PM PDT

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Fourteen suspected members of the Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram were arrested in neighbouring Niger on Tuesday after an attack on an army patrol in the eastern region of Diffa, the regional governor said.

Diffa, some 1,400 km east of Niger's capital, Niamey, borders the Nigerian state of Borno, the centre of Boko Haram's uprising. Tens of thousands of refugees have fled the fighting to the arid region, and local Niger officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over Boko Haram infiltration.

Yacouba Soumana Gaoh, the regional governor of Diffa, said the army had detained two Boko Haram suspects who had robbed a man at gunpoint early on Tuesday in the commune of Chetimari.

"The security forces then fell into an ambush laid by presumed members of Boko Haram. After fierce fighting, reinforcements were sent in but the attackers were able to cross over the border," he told state television.

The governor said three suspected militants were captured during the fighting, two of whom suffered gunshot wounds. There were no casualties among the army troops, but one of their vehicles was peppered with bullets, he said.

Nine other suspects were later arrested in the regional capital Diffa and the surrounding area, he said.

A military source, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters he was not aware of any link between the arrests and the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria last month. A further eight girls were kidnapped from a village by suspected Boko Haram gunmen on Tuesday.

The kidnappings by the Islamists, who say they are fighting for an Islamic state in Nigeria, have shocked a country long inured to the violence around the northeast and has outraged international opinion.

Officials in neighbouring Chad and Cameroon have strongly denied that Boko Haram had taken the girls across the border into their countries.

(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaki; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Bate Felix and Prudence Crowther)


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