‘Boko Haram can pick in­ter­me­di­ary in talks to free Chi­bok girls’

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature/worldwide -

NIGE­RIA would let Boko Haram choose a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion as an in­ter­me­di­ary in any talks on the re­lease of about 200 school­girls kid­napped from the north­east­ern vil­lage of Chi­bok in 2014, Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari said yes­ter­day.

Buhari first said last year that his gov­ern­ment was ready to ne­go­ti­ate with Is­lamist mil­i­tants Boko Haram over the girls, but the group has not com­mented on the pro­posal.

Nige­ria’s fail­ure to find the kid­napped chil­dren prompted an out­cry at home and abroad. Crit­ics of Buhari’s pre­de­ces­sor, Good­luck Jonathan, said his gov­ern­ment was too slow to act.

Any ne­go­ti­a­tions would be the first pub­licly known talks be­tween the gov­ern­ment and Boko Haram, whose seven-year in­sur­gency to cre­ate an Is­lamic state in the north­east has killed 15 000 peo­ple.

“The gov­ern­ment which I pre­side over is pre­pared to talk to bona fide lead­ers of Boko Haram,” Buhari told re­porters at a con­fer­ence on African de­vel­op­ment in Kenya’s cap­i­tal, Nairobi, in com­ments later is­sued in an of­fi­cial state­ment. “If they do not want to talk to us di­rectly, let them pick an in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion (NGO),” he said.

Buhari said Boko Haram could be­gin ne­go­ti­a­tions on a pris­oner swap if they could pro­vide ev­i­dence to the NGO that they had the girls.

Around 270 girls were taken from their school in the vil­lage of Chi­bok in north­east­ern Nige­ria in April 2014. Dozens es­caped in the ini­tial melee, but more than 200 are still miss­ing.

Ear­lier this month, Boko Haram pub­lished a video ap­par­ently show­ing re­cent footage of dozens of the girls and say­ing some were killed in air strikes.

Author­i­ties said in May that one of the miss­ing girls had been found and Buhari vowed to res­cue the others. Nige­ria is fight­ing the group on the ground and with air strikes. A multi-na­tional joint task force — com­pris­ing troops from Nige­ria and neigh­bour­ing Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Benin — is also bat­tling the mil­i­tants.

On Tues­day, Nige­ria’s air force said it had killed some se­nior Boko Haram mil­i­tants in raids. Boko Haram pledged al­le­giance to Is­lamic State (IS) last year, but there are signs of a rift emerg­ing. — AP

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