Tuesday 10 December 2019

British government offers drones in hunt for missing Nigerian schoolgirls

THE British Government could provide drones or other surveillance assistance to help the Nigerian authorities locate the girls abducted from their school, Downing Street indicated.

Officials were in discussions about whether "there may be some scope for us to have a role", the Prime Minister's official spokesman said.

David Cameron had watched footage of the girls released by Boko Haram militants and it underlined his view about the "pure evil" of those involved in the abduction, the spokesman added.

A British team including counter-terrorism and intelligence experts in Nigeria has held talks with counterparts and political leaders as well as a group representing the families of the girls.

US surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft are involved in efforts to find the missing girls and the UK was also prepared to assist, Downing Street said.

"We are having discussions with the Nigerian authorities as to whether or not there may be some scope for us to have a role in terms of surveillance," the Prime Minister's spokesman said.

"We will want to keep ensuring that we work in a complementary fashion with other governments - the Nigerian government and other governments that are supporting their work."

But there had not yet been a specific request for assistance from the Nigerian authorities, the spokesman added.

"There is a very understandable broad interest in the potential type of support that would help the search.

"That is an area that the Nigerian authorities are interested in, I'm not sure that has yet translated into a very specific request but there is certainly some interest in what we and others may be able to offer in that sort of surveillance area."

Foreign Secretary William Hague briefed Cabinet on the latest developments in Nigeria following the kidnap of more than 200 girls from their school.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The Foreign Secretary explained the fact that our team had now been on the ground in Nigeria, in Abuja for a couple of days, had met with the president, his national security adviser, members of the Nigerian security forces as well as a group representing the parents of the abducted girls.

"One of the things the group was in a position to do was to feed back to London as ... part of our process of seeing whether there is more, in complement with the US and others, that we may be able to offer in terms of planning and co-ordination and the like."

Asked if Mr Cameron had seen the video of the girls, the spokesman said he had seen some of the footage on the news.

"It very much underlined the view that he took last week in PMQs around the pure evil of the kidnappers, how all our hearts go out both to the girls themselves and to their families and their relatives," he said.

"The images that he saw on his TV screen, like millions of people in this country as well as around the world, just underline the importance of doing all we can to support the Nigerian government and the Nigerian people."

Former prime minister Gordon Brown urged Boko Haram to publish all the pictures of the kidnapped schoolgirls to prove they are still alive.

Mr Brown, who has been visiting Nigeria in his role as United Nations special envoy for global education, said the kidnap of the girls from their school in the north east of the country four weeks ago was "every parent's nightmare".

He called on Boko Haram to publish pictures of all the girls after a video was released yesterday by the militants claiming to show around 130 of the victims.

"It is in one way good news that the girls were photographed yesterday. That shows that at least the majority of them are still alive," Mr Brown told ITV's Good Morning Britain.

"I would challenge Boko Haram to publish the pictures of all the girls so we can know all of them are alive.

"I would also call on every religious community to condemn Boko Haram and tell them that they cannot use girls in this way - either using them as sex slaves or threatening to forcibly convert them to Islam."

Mr Brown said there was a "massive amount of surveillance" being done behind the scenes in the search for the girls with support from around the world. He said the Nigerian government was doing everything in its power to find the girls.

He said conceding to a demand to exchange prisoners would mean further kidnaps by Boko Haram.

"If we conceded to an exchange, that would mean Boko Haram would just do this again and again and again, knowing that they could have immediate results from doing so," he said.

"If we can track down and locate the girls and then release them, that would be a blow to the efforts of Boko Haram, who have killed almost 5,000 people in the last few years."

He added: "This is every parent's nightmare. My children are going to school this morning and we assume, all of us, that our children are going to be safe and they are going to return home without any danger and any risk.

"But now in Nigeria, this is an almost every-week occurrence that children are either being bombed or burned or they are being kidnapped or abducted.

"We must help the Nigerians stop this."

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