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Friday 29 August 2014

Nigeria rejects swap of Boko Haram prisoners for schoolgirls - UK Minister

Published 14/05/2014 | 15:02

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People hold placards calling for the release of secondary school girls abducted in the remote village of Chibok, during a protest along a road in Lagos. Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has rejected the idea of a swap of Boko Haram prisoners for schoolgirls who were kidnapped by the Islamist group a month ago, Britain's minister for Africa said after talks with him in Abuja.

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"He made it very clear that there would be no negotiations with Boko Haram that involved a swap of abducted schoolgirls for prisoners," Mark Simmonds said.

The Islamist group, which is holding more than 200 girls, posted a video on Monday offering to release them in exchange for prisoners held by the government.

Boko Haram militants, who are fighting for an Islamist state, stormed a secondary school in the northeastern village of Chibok on April 14 and seized 276 girls who were taking exams.

Some have managed to escape, but about 200 remain missing.

The abductions have triggered a worldwide social media campaign under the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, and prompted the United States, Britain, France and Israel to offer help or send experts to Nigeria.

Kalabalge village

Meanwhile, villagers in an area of Nigeria where Boko Haram operates have killed and detained scores of the Islamic militants who were suspected of planning a fresh attack, residents and a security official said.

Locals in Nigeria's northern states have been forming vigilante groups in various areas to resist the militant group.

In Kalabalge, a village about 155 miles from the Borno state capital of Maiduguri, residents said they were taking matters into their own hands because the Nigerian military is not doing enough to stem Boko Haram attacks.

After learning about an impending attack by militants, locals ambushed two trucks with gunmen, a security official said. At least 10 militants were detained, and scores were killed, the official said.

Kalabalge trader Ajid Musa said that after residents organised the vigilante group, "it is impossible" for militants to successfully stage attacks there.

"That is why most attacks by the Boko Haram on our village continued (to) fail because they cannot come in here and start shooting and killing people," he said. Earlier this year in other parts of Borno, some extremists launched more attacks in retaliation against the vigilante groups.

Borno is where more than 300 girls were abducted last month and one of three Nigerian states where President Goodluck Jonathan has imposed a state of emergency, giving the military special powers to fight the Islamic extremist group, whose stronghold is in north-east Nigeria.

Britain and the US are now actively involved in the effort to rescue the missing girls. US attorney general Eric Holder said FBI agents and a hostage negotiating team are in Nigeria now, providing technology and other materials and working with "our Nigerian counterparts to be as helpful as we possibly can".

The group kidnapped the girls on April 15 from a school in Chibok. At least 276 of them are still held captive, with the group's leader threatening to sell them into slavery. In a video released on Monday, he offered to release the girls in exchange for the freedom of jailed Boko Haram members.

A Nigerian government official has said "all options" are now open - including negotiations or a possible military operation with foreign help.

Mr Jonathan this week sought to extend the state of emergency for six more months in the states of Yobe, Adamawa and Borno.

That move is being opposed by some leaders in northern Nigeria who say the emergency measure has brought no success. Yobe governor Ibrahim Gaidam said that his government "takes very strong exception" to attempts to extend the state of emergency - a period that he described as "marked more by failure than by success".

The measure was imposed on May 14 2013, and extended in December.

Boko Haram has killed more than 1,500 people this year. Although the security forces have forced the militants out of urban centres, they have struggled for months to dislodge them from hideouts in mountain caves and the Sambisa forest.

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