Saturday 22 July 2017

Talks under way to secure release of more kidnapped schoolgirls

Chibok schoolgirls recently freed from extremist captivity are being cared for by the government in the capital Abuja (Sunday Alamba/AP)
Chibok schoolgirls recently freed from extremist captivity are being cared for by the government in the capital Abuja (Sunday Alamba/AP)

Nigeria's government is negotiating "seriously" for the release of more than 110 kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls still held by Boko Haram, and has said it is willing to exchange more detained members of the extremist group for them if needed.

Minister of women's affairs and social development Aisha Alhassan said: "We will not relent until all are back," as she addressed reporters in the capital Abuja.

The mass abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls from a boarding school three years ago brought world attention to Boko Haram's deadly rampage in northern Nigeria. Thousands of people have been kidnapped or killed in the group's eight-year insurgency, with millions driven from their homes.

On Saturday, 82 of the Chibok schoolgirls were released. Nigeria's government exchanged them for five detained Boko Haram commanders.

Negotiations with the extremist group, mediated by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss government, also resulted in the October release of a first group of 21 Chibok girls.

Ms Alhassan said Nigeria's government has no regrets about exchanging Boko Haram commanders for the schoolgirls' release.

"We'll do it again if needed," she said in comments tweeted by Nigeria's government.

Families in Chibok are meeting with community leaders to identify the freed schoolgirls from photos.

The young women are joining those released earlier in government care in Abuja, where they are undergoing medical screening that will take a couple of weeks, Ms Alhassan said. Some must undergo surgery, she added.

The group of girls released in October were in "bad shape" and spent two months in medical care, the minister said.

Human rights groups have criticised the government for keeping them so long in the capital, far from their homes. Ms Alhassan said they travelled to Chibok for Christmas but upon their return to the capital said they were scared to go back to their community.

The girls said they wanted to go back to school so a nine-month reintegration programme was designed for them, the minister said. The newly released girls will join that programme.

AP

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