Nigeria ready to negotiate with Boko Haram for kidnapped girls

2014-05-14 08:53

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Abuja – Nigeria’s government yesterday signalled a willingness to negotiate with Islamist militants holding more than 200 schoolgirls, a month after the kidnapping that has provoked global outrage.

“The window of negotiation is still open,” Special Duties Minister Tanimu Turaki said by telephone.

He was speaking a day after Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau posted a video offering to release the girls in exchange for prisoners held by the government.

Senior officials say the government is exploring options and has made no commitment to negotiations for the release of the girls, and Turaki declined to comment on possible talks over the kidnapping itself.

Instead, he referred to an amnesty committee that he heads, set up by President Goodluck Jonathan last year, to talk to the Boko Haram militants behind a five-year-old insurgency.

The committee’s initial six-month mandate expired without holding direct talks with the rebels, though it has spoken to them through proxies. It has since been replaced by a standing committee empowered to conduct talks, officials said.

Boko Haram has killed thousands of people since 2009 and destabilised parts of northeast Nigeria, the country with Africa’s largest population and biggest economy.

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

The US has sent military, law-enforcement and development specialists.

Two US officials said yesterday a mix of manned and unmanned American surveillance aircraft were being used to aid the search for the missing girls. One US official identified the drone as a Global Hawk, which is a high-altitude, unmanned spy plane manufactured by Northrop Grumman Corporation.

The Boko Haram video showed more than 110 girls sitting on the ground in a rural location, the first time they have been seen in captivity.

It was not clear when or where the video was filmed or whether Shekau, who sat in front of a green backdrop holding an AK-47 during part of the video, was in the same location as the girls.

Those shown were among 276 abducted on April 14 from a secondary school in the village of Chibok, Borno State, in a sparsely populated region near the borders with Cameroon, Niger and Chad. Some escaped, but about 200 are still missing. The group initially threatened to sell them into slavery.

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