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Cameroon Trip To Discuss Boko Haram Threat Begins On A Tragic Note


America's ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, is visiting communities terrorized by Boko Haram. Yesterday, she traveled to Cameroon. Tens of thousands of people displaced by Boko Haram live at that country's northern tip. The visit began on a tragic note, when a young boy was struck by one of the cars in her motorcade. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, Power went on to hear more painful stories of loss.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: In a dusty courtyard in the town of Mokolo, Samantha Power sits on straw mats, listening to heartbreaking stories. One woman sits with a small girl in her lap but says it's not her daughter. Her husband and children were all killed by Boko Haram. She's sobbing and can't finish her story.

SAMANTHA POWER: It's OK. It's OK. We all cry.

KELEMEN: Another widow, 28-year-old Haulatu Usman, describes how she fled in the night with five small children, including an infant, in tow. Power was clearly moved.

POWER: When I go back to America, I'll tell President Obama that I met this very brave woman who somehow escaped with five children.


POWER: What is it you'd most like me to tell him?

USMAN: Tell him we need their help because five children is not easy to me.

KELEMEN: Usman shyly asked for help. Power promised her that the U.S. would not only try to support the regional forces fighting Boko Haram, but also try to tackle the grinding poverty that feeds extremism in this remote part of Cameroon. The U.S. operates a drone base in the area and has special forces helping to train Cameroonian troops. Still, the governor of Maroua, Midjiwaya Bakari, says there have been some deadly suicide bombings recently, including one at a market when a girl blew herself up.

MIDJIWAYA BAKARI: We lost more than 50 person.

KELEMEN: Fifty people in this city...

BAKARI: Fifty people died.

KELEMEN: ...From Boko Haram attacks.


KELEMEN: The governor says so-called vigilance committees are helping to put a stop to some attacks. These are local leaders who report on suspected militants in their midst. Power has heard concerns by activists, though, about heavy-handed tactics. And she's nudging the officials she meets to wage this war on Boko Haram more carefully. She also wants to see what more the U.S. can do to help the victims. At a U.N. refugee camp, she visited the hut of one young Nigerian.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

KELEMEN: Hiding her face and identity from reporters, the girl recounted how she faced a terrible choice at age 14 - marry a local Boko Haram militant or die with her family. She got married but eventually made her way to Cameroon. Power later told reporters that she can't imagine the trauma this girl carries.


POWER: To go into a camp and to see so many people affected by this terror only deepens and reinforces our commitment to the people of Cameroon, to the people of Nigeria, Niger, Chad. All of you who are attempting to fight this terror, the United States stands with you.

KELEMEN: ...And will continue, she says, to offer military and economic support. Power made one last stop in northern Cameroon before returning to the capital. She visited the mother and father of a 7-year-old boy who was struck and killed by her motorcade. He apparently just wanted a closer look at the helicopter providing security for Power's visit when he made a deadly dash into the road. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Maroua. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.