Niger vows to ‘cleanse’ extremist-infested border area

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Niger President Mohamed Bazoum on Saturday pledged to “cleanse” villages of extremist elements that have expanded their reach in the southeast of the country near Nigeria.

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Boko Haram has gained a foothold in at least two villages, Bazoum said at the end of a three-day tour of the southeastern region that has been plagued by extremist violence since 2015.

He described another village as being “infested”, while Boko Haram are able to cut off roads from their bases in other settlements, he said.

“We will give instructions for these villages to be cleansed,” he said, adding that joint operations with Nigeria will clear out extremists operating on both sides of the border.

Boko Haram, ISIS and groups affiliated to al-Qaeda are a growing menace for a number of countries across the continent -- sparking protests as people demand leaders restore security.

Bazoum gave no start date for the military operations.

“On the military level, we have a good balance of power... but the enemy is reorganizing itself, and has a lot of capacity,” he said, adding the government would remain “very vigilant”.

Boko Haram have widened their area of operations, Bazoum said.

The extremists are operating “increasingly to the west and south” of the Diffa region, far from their usual range around Lake Chad, a security source confirmed to AFP.

In the first six months of the year, there were nine attacks on Niger’s security forces in two towns that are not bordering the lake, including the regional capital Diffa, according to the United Nations.

The Diffa region is home to 300,000 Nigerian and displaced refugees fleeing extremist violence since 2015, according to the UN.

Niger is also fighting extremists from the Sahel in its western region, including ISIS in the Great Sahara.

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