ABUJA // Twenty-one of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram more than two years ago have been released, with the Nigerian information minister saying it was not a prisoner swap.
“Please note that this is not a swap. It is a release, the product of painstaking negotiations and trust on both sides,” Lai Mohammed said on Thursday, denying claims from local sources that the girls were freed in exchange for four Boko Haram prisoners.
The minister said the release followed intensive negotiations with Boko Haram leadership.
“As soon as the necessary confidence was built on both sides, the parties agreed on the date and the location of the release of the 21 girls,” he said.
Some 197 girls remain captive, though it is not known if any of them have died.
Mr Mohammed said the government would continue to pursue the release of the remaining girls, adding that those freed would receive medical attention and care.
All but three of the freed schoolgirls are carrying babies, said an aid worker who saw the girls in Maiduguri.
“We see this as a credible first step in the eventual release of all the Chibok girls in captivity,” said Mr Mohammed. “It is also a major step in confidence-building between us as a government and the Boko Haram leadership on the issue of the Chibok girls.”
Mr Mohammed said the government would release the names of the girls after contacting their parents and verifying their identities.
In April 2014, 276 girls were seized from their accommodation in the north-east Nigerian town of Chibok by Boko Haram.
Scores of the girls escaped in the hours after the kidnapping, while another was rescued earlier this year.
The extremist group had insisted the girls would only be released in exchange for its members being held in government custody.
* Agence France-Presse, Associated Press