Nigeria said it was willing to talk to Islamist group Boko Haram, as the US sent its top general in Africa for talks on the mission to rescue the more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the militants.
Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima confirmed that all of the girls shown in the latest video released by Boko Haram had been identified as among the 276 students taken from the Chibok Government Girls’ Secondary School last month.
Nigerian Minister of Special Duties Taminu Turaki restated the government’s position that it was open to negotiations on ending Boko Haram’s increasingly bloody five-year insurgency.
Turaki told reporters that “Nigeria has always been willing to dialogue with the insurgents,” adding: “We are willing to carry that dialogue on any issue, including the girls kidnapped in Chibok, because certainly we are not going to say that [the abduction] is not an issue.”
Nigerian Minister of the Interior Abba Moro earlier dismissed a suggestion from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in the video released on Monday that the girls could be swapped for imprisoned militants, but the military later said it would “explore all options” to end the crisis.
The group’s video purported to show about 130 of the 223 girls still being held wearing Muslim dress and praying, and said they had all converted to Islam.
A special viewing of the footage was organized for the missing girls’ parents and the leader of the Chibok community in Abija, Tsambido Hosea, said the video had stirred up conflicting emotions.
“I called Chibok and spoke with some of them [the parents],” he said at a protest march in the capital. “Some are saying they are happy because they have seen their daughters. Some have their grief increased. So, there is a mixed reaction.”
US, British, French and Israeli specialists have been sent to Abuja to provide expert assistance to Nigeria. China has also offered help.
A US official said General David Rodriguez, the head of US Africa Command, was in Abuja “discussing US assistance for the search as well as overall cooperation.”
Rodriguez’s visit came after Washington confirmed it was flying manned aircraft over Nigeria and sharing commercial satellite imagery to help look for the girls.
Britain said it was sending British Foreign Office Minister for Africa Mark Simmonds to Abuja yesterday to discuss what help is required.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday requested a six-month extension to the state of emergency declared in Borno and two neighboring states a year ago over the “daunting” security situation.
The request requires the approval of both chambers of Nigeria’s parliament, but with more than 1,500 people killed this year alone and no let-up in the violence, the wisdom of an extension was immediately called into question.
The Yobe State Government swiftly rejected an extension, slamming it as “apparent failure” over the past year.
Shehu Sani, an expert on Boko Haram and violence in northern Nigeria, said it was a “futile” exercise and the government should instead seek a negotiated settlement.
Meanwhile, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on trafficking, called for the negotiated release of the schoolgirls, amid worries they might be sold off.
“The elements of trafficking are there,” Ezeilo said in a call with journalists. “We cannot do politics with the lives of these young girls.”
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