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Boko Haram releases 21 kidnapped Chibok girl

  • Published at 01:38 pm October 13th, 2016
Boko Haram releases 21 kidnapped Chibok girl

Boko Haram has released 21 of more than 200 girls kidnapped by the Islamist militant group in April 2014 in the northern Nigerian town of Chibok, the government said on Thursday. The girls were exchanged for four Boko Haram militants in Banki, northeast Nigeria, said the local sources.

Around 270 girls were taken from their school in Chibok in the northeastern Borno state, where the jihadists have waged a seven-year insurgency to try to set up an Islamic state, killing thousands and displacing more than 2 million people.

Dozens escaped in the initial melee, but more than 200 girls are still missing. The kidnapping brought outrage worldwide and their plight was promoted by a Twitter hashtag #bringbackourgirls.

"The release of the girls is the outcome of negotiations between the administration and Boko Haram brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government," a presidency statement said. "The negotiations will continue."

The presidency gave no details of the deal, saying only that the 21 girls were very tired and would first rest in the custody of the national security agency. They would then be handed over to Vice President Yemi Obinsajo, the statement said. President Muhammadu Buhari will travel to Germany on Thursday.

CNN published on its website a picture it said showed several of the freed girls, wearing veils and being escorted by soldiers in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state. Authorities said in May one of the missing girls had been found and Buhari vowed to rescue the others.

In the past days, the Nigerian military has been carrying out a large-scale offensive in the Sambisa forest, a stronghold of Boko Haram, which last year pledged loyalty to the Islamic State militant group.

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Boko Haram controlled a swathe of land around the size of Belgium at the start of 2015, but Nigeria's army, aided by troops from neighbouring countries, has recaptured most of the territory. The group still stages suicide bombings in the northeast, as well as in neighbouring Niger and Cameroon.

Boko Haram published a video in August apparently showing recent footage of dozens of the kidnapped girls and said some had been killed in air strikes. The militant group has kidnapped hundreds of men, women and children but the kidnapping of the Chibok girls brought it worldwide attention.

In the last few months Buhari has said his government was prepared to negotiate with Boko Haram over the release of the girls.

End of the insurgency

Over 200 girls were captured from the northeast Nigeria town of Chibok in April 2014 by Boko Haram militants as part of their fight to establish an Islamist state in the region.

The audacious kidnapping drew global attention to the jihadist insurgency engulfing the area.

Out of the 276 girls kidnapped, scores escaped in the hours after the kidnapping, while another was rescued earlier this year.

In September, the Nigerian government said that it had opened negotiations with Boko Haram to secure the release of the remaining girls but that the talks were derailed due to a split in the extremist group.

The identity of the girls has yet to be confirmed, said Bring Back Our Girls campaigner Aisha Yesufu.

"We cannot confirm anything yet," Yesufu said.

[caption id="attachment_21816" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Boko Haram Kidnapped girls1 Girls wearing full veils and praying are shown in an undisclosed location in the video in which Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau speaks. REUTERS[/caption]

"As I depart Abuja for Germany on an official visit, I welcome the release of 21 of our Chibok girls, following successful negotiations," Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement on Twitter.

Prisoner swaps between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government have happened before, said Ryan Cummings, director at intelligence firm Signal Risk.

"Obviously the guys that Boko Haram wants released would be more high ranking," Cummings said.

"The trajectory of the insurgency has shifted in the favour of the Nigerian government of late.

"Let's hope that it's the start to negotiations to find the end of the insurgency."

The insurgency has claimed more than 20,000 lives, displaced 2.6 million people from their homes and thousands of children have been kidnapped since Boko Haram took up arms against the Nigerian government in 2009.

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