Mon, May 08, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Nigeria swaps suspects for Chibok girls

RECEPTION:The government said the Nigerian president would meet with the girls in Abuja, but did not say how many Boko Haram prisoners it freed in exchange for them

Reuters, ABUJA and MAIDUGURI, Nigeria

Boko Haram militants have released 82 schoolgirls out of a group of more than 200 whom they kidnapped from the northeastern town of Chibok three years ago in exchange for prisoners, the Nigerian presidency said on Saturday.

About 270 girls were kidnapped in April 2014 by the militant group, which has killed 15,000 people and displaced more than 2 million during a seven-year insurgency aimed at creating a Muslim caliphate in northeastern Nigeria.

Dozens escaped in the initial melee, but more than 200 remained missing for more than two years.

Nigeria thanked Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for helping secure the release of the 82 girls after “lengthy negotiations,” the Nigerian presidency said in a statement.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was scheduled to meet the girls yesterday afternoon in the capital, Abuja, it said, without saying how many Boko Haram suspects had been exchanged or disclosing other details.

A military source said the girls were brought yesterday morning from Banki near the Cameroon border to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, where the insurgency started.

The release of the girls might give a boost to Buhari, who has hardly appeared in public since returning from Britain in March for treatment of an unspecified illness.

He made crushing the insurgency a pillar of his election campaign in 2015.

“The president directed the security agencies to continue in earnest until all the Chibok girls have been released and reunited with their families,” the Nigerian presidency said.

More than 20 girls were released in October last year in a deal brokered by the ICRC.

Others have escaped or been rescued, but 195 were believed to be still in captivity.

Buhari last month said that the government was in talks to secure the release of the remaining captives.

Although the Chibok girls are the most high-profile case, Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of adults and children, many of whose cases have been neglected.

Although the army has retaken much of the territory initially lost to Boko Haram, large parts of the northeast, particularly in Borno State, remain under threat from the militants.

Suicide bombings and gun attacks have increased in the region since the end of the rainy season late last year.

About 4.7 million people in northeast Nigeria depend on food aid, some of which is blocked by militant attacks, some held up by a lack of funding and some, diplomats say, stolen before it can reach those in need.

Millions of Nigerians might soon be in peril if the situation deteriorates, as authorities expect, when the five-month rainy season begins this month and makes farming impossible in areas that are now accessible.

Northeast Nigeria is the western edge of an arc of hunger stretching across the breadth of Africa through South Sudan, Somalia and into Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula.

The UN believes as many as 20 million people are in danger in what could become the world’s worst famine for decades.

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