Chibok girls released in exchange for Boko Haram suspects


Chibok girls released in exchange for Boko Haram suspects

Eighty-two of the more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria in 2014 arrived in Abuja today to meet President Muhammadu Buhari after a prisoner swap deal secured their release.

"We appeal to all Nigerians, including the families and local communities of the liberated girls, to fully embrace them and provide all necessary support to ensure their reintegration into society", a statement said.

"As a mediator, it is not part of my mandate to force them (to return home)", he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the capital Abuja.

There was no immediate comment about the exchange from the Nigerian presidency or Boko Haram, the extremists linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Numerous captive girls, majority Christians, were forced to marry their captors and give birth to children in remote forest hideouts without knowing if they would see their parents again. At the time, the government denied making an exchange for Boko Haram suspects or paying a ransom.

"The location of the girls kept changing since yesterday when the operation to rescue them commenced", said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to make the announcement. "Yes, 82 girls are freed and they are due to fly to Abuja from Banki town in Borno State", the source said.

Galang said they don't yet know who has been released, "but we're very happy that many have been freed".

The first batch of 21 were freed last October with the aid of the Red Cross and Switzerland. Currently, there are 113 girls who still remain missing.

Despite the focus on the Chibok schoolgirls, the group makes up only a tiny fraction of the thousands of people abducted by Boko Haram.

They were from a group of 276 abducted in north-eastern Nigeria in 2014.

The failure of Nigeria's former government to act quickly to free the girls sparked a global Bring Back Our Girls movement; US first lady Michelle Obama posted a photo with its logo on social media. The government would now look to secure the release of the remaining hostages, he added.

The girls were welcomed by the Nigerian president's chief of staff. Human rights advocates believe others could be among the young girls who have been used to carry out suicide bombing attacks.

The 82 girls were released to worldwide negotiators who have been working in collaboration with the Federal government for their safe return since they were kidnapped in April 2014.

Mogherini, in a statement on Sunday, said EU's thoughts are with the released girls as they rebuild their lives.

The campaign for the release of the almost 300 Chibok schoolgirls seized three years ago by Boko Haram says it is glad Nigeria's government is committed to freeing the 113 girls still unaccounted for.