International effort widens for missing Nigerian schoolgirls

International effort widens for missing Nigerian schoolgirls

LAGOS - International efforts have widened to trace more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Islamists militants in Nigeria, while France has called for African leaders to hold a summit focused on the issue.

Israel on Sunday joined the bid to find the 223 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram fighters in Nigeria's restive northeast four weeks ago, but Washington said US troops would stay out of any rescue mission.

"There's no intention, at this point, to (put) American boots on the ground," US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told ABC television, admitting that finding the girls would be no easy task.

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by telephone and accepted an offer for assistance in finding the girls, who were kidnapped from their school dormitory in the town of Chibok, Borno state, on April 14.

Jonathan told Netanyahu that "Nigeria would be pleased to have Israel's globally acknowledged anti-terrorism expertise deployed to support its ongoing operations", according to the president's spokesman Reuben Abati.

Britain, the United States and France have already sent specialist teams and equipment to help Nigeria's military in the search concentrated in the remote northeast, which has been hit by five years of deadly violence.

French President Francois Hollande said a summit on security in west Africa, focusing on Boko Haram, could be held as early as this Saturday "if the countries agree".

"I suggested, with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, a meeting of Nigeria's neighbouring countries," he said on Sunday during a visit to Azerbaijan's capital Baku.

The leaders of at least five African countries - Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin - may take part, a source close to the president said.

Nigeria's government has been criticised as slow to respond to the crisis and Amnesty International claimed on Friday that the military had prior warning of the impending abductions.

Abuja has since been forced into action after a groundswell of national and international outrage that has included protest marches across the world.

Jonathan has said he believes the girls are still in Nigeria. Searches were being conducted in the Sambisa forest area of Borno state, where the military has previously found Boko Haram camps and arms caches.

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