A police truck tries to drive through a link bridge connecting Nigeria and Cameroon at Ngala. It was virtually destroyed by suspected Boko Haram fighters.

Yaounde -

Hundreds of Nigerian soldiers fled across the border to neighbouring Cameroon because of fears of attack from Boko Haram Islamists, Cameroon security sources told AFP on Monday.

“Some 500 Nigerian soldiers took refuge in the far north (of Cameroon) on Sunday,” said a police officer stationed in the region. “They fled because they feared an attack by Boko Haram.

“They arrived with all their weapons (pick-up trucks and armoured vehicles),” added the officer, who asked not to be named.

Boko Haram has shown an increasing ability to strike almost at will in north-east Nigeria, where it wants to create a hardline Islamic state, with apparently little or no resistance from the military.

In recent weeks, it has claimed to have taken over several towns and on Monday launched an attack on the border town of Gamboru Ngala, sending thousands of residents fleeing across the frontier.

Soldiers were said to have been among those fleeing, residents said.

Cameroon soldiers were deployed to the border on Monday to prevent the militants reaching Fotokol.

The police officer said some of the soldiers who arrived on Sunday were stationed in Ashigashya and had travelled across Borno state to meet up with their comrades in Kerawa.

But they were forced into Cameroonian territory because Kerawa came under fire.

He added that the troops were taken to the regional capital of northern Cameroon, Maroua, and were heading back to Nigeria.

A Cameroon army official said by telephone that “more than 450 Nigerian soldiers” had taken shelter in Cameroon but declined to comment further.

Nigeria's military earlier dismissed suggestions that the soldiers had fled and instead said they had been “charging through the borders in a tactical manoeuvre” and found themselves on Cameroonian soil. - Sapa-AFP