Kid­napped Nige­rian school­girls re­leased

Held for more than three years by Is­lamic mil­i­tants

Cape Breton Post - - World -

Five Boko Haram com­man­ders have been re­leased in ex­change for the free­dom of 82 Chi­bok school­girls, says a Nige­rian govern­ment of­fi­cial.

The of­fi­cial spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity as he was not au­tho­rized to speak to re­porters on the mat­ter.

The con­fir­ma­tion of the pris­oner swap Sun­day comes a day af­ter the young women were lib­er­ated af­ter more than three years in cap­tiv­ity by the Is­lamic mil­i­tants.

There was no im­me­di­ate com­ment about the ex­change from the Nige­rian pres­i­dency or Boko Haram, the ex­trem­ists linked to the Is­lamic State group. Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari said Satur­day that some Boko Haram pris­on­ers had been re­leased for the free­dom of the school­girls, but he did not give any de­tails.

The freed young women were flown Sun­day by mil­i­tary he­li­copters from north­east­ern Nige­ria to Abuja, the cap­i­tal, where they were ex­pected to meet the pres­i­dent.

“They will face a long and dif­fi­cult process to re­build their lives af­ter the in­de­scrib­able hor­ror and trauma they have suf­fered at the hands of Boko Haram,’’ said Pernille Iron­side, act­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive of UNICEF Nige­ria.

Au­thor­i­ties say 113 school­girls re­main miss­ing of the 276 girls ab­ducted from their board­ing school in 2014. Girls who es­caped said some of their class­mates had died from ill­ness. Oth­ers did not want to come home be­cause they’d been rad­i­cal­ized by their cap­tors, they said.

Hu­man rights ad­vo­cates also fear some of the girls kid­napped from the Chi­bok board­ing school were used by Boko Haram to carry out sui­cide bomb­ings.

In Nige­ria’s cap­i­tal, Abuja, anx­ious fam­i­lies were await­ing the of­fi­cial list of names of the 82 school­girls freed. Some par­ents have not lived long enough to see their daugh­ters re­leased, un­der­scor­ing the tragedy of the three-year-long saga.

Last year, 21 other Chi­bok girls were lib­er­ated in Oc­to­ber and they have been un­der­go­ing coun­selling for months. It was not im­me­di­ately clear whether the new­est girls freed Satur­day would join them.

Those girls are still in govern­ment care in Abuja for med­i­cal at­ten­tion, trauma coun­selling and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, ac­cord­ing to the govern­ment. Hu­man rights groups have crit­i­cized the de­ci­sion to keep the girls in cus­tody in Abuja, nearly 900 kilo­me­tres (560 miles) from Chi­bok.

The newly freed school­girls should be quickly re­leased to their fam­i­lies and not be sub­jected to lengthy govern­ment de­ten­tion, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s Nige­ria of­fice said, adding that they don’t de­serve to be put through a “pub­lic­ity stunt’’ and de­serve pri­vacy.

The In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross, which along with the Swiss govern­ment has me­di­ated ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Nige­ria’s govern­ment and Boko Haram, said the girls soon would meet with their fam­i­lies.

Satur­day’s re­lease marks the largest ne­go­ti­ated re­lease so far of the 276 girls whose ab­duc­tion in 2014 drew in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion to the threat of Nige­ria’s ex­trem­ists. Boko Haram has pledged al­le­giance to the Is­lamic State, and has in­creas­ingly car­ried out at­tacks in neigh­bour­ing coun­tries.

The mass kid­nap­ping hor­ri­fied the world and brought Boko Haram in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion. The fail­ure of Nige­ria’s for­mer govern­ment to act quickly to free the girls sparked a global Bring Back Our Girls move­ment; U.S. first lady Michelle Obama posted a photo with its logo on so­cial me­dia.

The Bring Back Our Girls cam­paign said Sun­day it was happy that Nige­ria’s govern­ment had com­mit­ted to res­cu­ing the 113 re­main­ing school­girls.

“We urge the pres­i­dent and his govern­ment to earnestly pur­sue the re­lease of all our Chi­bok girls and other ab­ducted cit­i­zens of Nige­ria,’’ the group said in a state­ment.

The school­girls kid­napped from Chi­bok in 2014 are among thou­sands of peo­ple ab­ducted by Boko Haram over the years.

A Nige­rian mil­i­tary of­fi­cial with di­rect knowl­edge of the res­cue op­er­a­tion said the freed girls were found near the town of Banki in Borno state near Cameroon.

Buhari late last year an­nounced Boko Haram had been “crushed,’’ but the group con­tin­ues to carry out at­tacks in north­ern Nige­ria and neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. Its in­sur­gency has killed more than 20,000 peo­ple and driven 2.6 million from their homes, with mil­lions fac­ing star­va­tion.

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