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UN Ambassador Tours West Africa To Highlight Boko Haram Threat


West Africans have endured brutal attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram for years, and in a moment, we're going to hear from a survivor who escaped after being captured by the group. She's now living in the U.S. First we're going to go to Cameroon. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, is visiting that country to bring attention to the violence, but her trip got off to a tragic start.

Joining us now is NPR's Michele Kelemen. She's traveling with the ambassador. And Michele, this was meant to be an opportunity for Ambassador Power to meet with Boko Haram victims who include many children, but tragically, her convoy killed a child en route. What happened, and how did Ambassador Power handle it?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: That's right. You know, a small boy - he was 7 years old - ran in front of one of the cars in the convoy. Apparently he was going to look up at one of the helicopters that was overhead and just ran into the street, and one of the cars hit him. The convoy did not stop. However, that car slowed down to make sure an ambulance that was also part of the convoy was there, and they picked him up. Unfortunately, he died.

And when Ambassador Power heard about this, we're told that she was distraught and really wanted to go back and do something. At the end of the day, she ended up stopping by to visit the parents to express her personal condolences.

MCEVERS: We should say that helicopter was there as part of the security detail, right?

KELEMEN: That's right.

MCEVERS: Describe this area of Northern Cameroon. And what did she see there?

KELEMEN: It's called the Extreme North, and one opposition politician described it as a region of extremes - extreme weather, extreme poverty. And so it has been hard hit by the Boko Haram insurgency. We've heard about people that have fled from Boko Haram but also that are being harassed by the local authorities. There are these - they call them vigilance committees that report on people that are suspected of being part of Boko Haram. So you have a population that's really trapped in between.

MCEVERS: Tell us about some of the people that Ambassador Power met.

KELEMEN: She visited a couple of places. One was where internally displaced people are staying in other people's homes. And she talked to a 10-year-old boy who hasn't seen his parents in two years. He escaped Boko Haram, doesn't know where they are and is living with a foster family.

She talked to women who have lost everything - lost their husbands, lost their children and are taking care of other children. There are really thousands of children who are separated from their families who are staying in this region of Northern Cameroon.

She also visited a United Nations camp where she met with a young girl who was forced into a marriage with a Boko Haram member, and she said, you know, it was basically a choice of having to marry this man or be killed. She eventually made it to Cameroon. She is now in this camp, and she has been reunited with her mother, and a young sister was there with her today.

MCEVERS: What does Ambassador Power hope to accomplish with this trip?

KELEMEN: The United States has been supporting the fight against Boko Haram with intelligence, with special forces. But she says she wants to fight Boko Haram not just with the military but also deal with some of the driving forces to this extremism, and that includes the poverty in the area and also deal with a lot of the psychological impact of these traumatic events.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen talking to us from Yaounde, Cameroon. Thanks, Michele, and stay safe.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.