Wednesday 22 October 2014

Impasse over Nigeria girls rescue

Published 27/05/2014 | 05:02

Women sing as they attend a prayer meeting calling on the government to rescue the kidnapped girls in Nigeria (AP)
Air Marshal Alex Barde speaks during a demonstration calling on the government to rescue the kidnapped girls (AP)
The Nigerians United Against Terrorism group attends a demonstration calling on the government to rescue the kidnapped girls (AP)

Apparent disagreement has emerged between Nigeria's military chiefs and the president over how to rescue nearly 300 schoolgirls abducted by Islamic extremists.

The military says use of force could get the hostages killed but the president has reportedly ruled out demands for a prisoner exchange.

Defence chief Air Marshal Alex Badeh announced last night that the military had located the girls, but offered no way forward. "We can't go and kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back," he said.

Previous military attempts to free hostages have led to prisoners being killed by their abductors, including the deaths of a British and an Italian engineer in northern Sokoto town in March 2012.

A human rights activist close to mediators said a swap of detained extremists for the girls was negotiated a week ago but fell through because president Goodluck Jonathan refused to consider an exchange.

Britain's minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, said two weeks ago that the Nigerian leader had told him categorically he would not consider a prisoner swap.

Community leader Pogu Bitrus, of Chibok, the town from which the girls were abducted on April 15, says authorities are speaking with "discordant voices" and the president appears under pressure to negotiate.

"The pressure is there if his own lieutenants are saying one (thing). Because if they cannot use force, the deduction is that there must be negotiation," Mr Bitrus said. "And if their commander-in-chief, the president, is saying that he will not negotiate, then they are not on the same page."

Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno state, the birthplace of the Boko Haram extremists and the north-eastern state from which the girls were abducted, said recently: "We impress on the federal authorities to work with our friends that have offered to assist us to ensure the safe recovery of the innocent girls."

Nigeria's military and government have faced national and international outrage over their failure to rescue the girls seized by Boko Haram militants from a remote north-eastern school six weeks ago.

Mr Jonathan finally accepted international help, and American planes have been searching for the girls and Britain, France, Israel and other countries have sent experts in surveillance and hostage negotiation.

A Boko Haram video has shown some of the kidnapped girls reciting Koranic verses in Arabic and two of them explaining why they had converted from Christianity to Islam in captivity.

Unverified reports have indicated two might have died of snake bites, that some have been forced to marry their abductors and some might have been taken across borders into Chad and Cameroon.

Press Association

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