Kidnapped girls found but storming vicinity out of the question: Nigeria military
ABUJA, NIGERIA // Nearly 300 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram militants in Nigeria have been located, but the military fears that storming the vicinity could get the children killed, said the country’s defence chief.
Air Marshal Alex Badeh told demonstrators supporting the much-criticised military that Nigerian troops can save the girls. But he added, “we can’t go and kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back”.
He spoke to thousands of demonstrators who marched to the defence ministry headquarters in the capital Abuja.
Many were brought in on buses, indicating it was an organised event.
Mr Badeh refused to elaborate when asked about where the girls were.
“We want our girls back. I can tell you we can do it. Our military can do it. But where they are held, can we go with force?” he asked the crowd.
People roared back, “No!”
“If we go with force, what will happen?” Mr Badeh asked.
“They will die,” the demonstrators responded.
Negotiation seems to be the sole option, but a human-rights activist close to the mediators said a deal to swap the girls for detained Boko Haram members last week was scuttled at the last minute by president Goodluck Jonathan.
The activist said the girls would have been freed last Monday if the deal had gone through.
President Jonathan had already told British officials he would not consider an exchange.
Nigeria’s military and government have faced national and international outrage over their failure to rescue the girls seized by Boko Haram Islamist extremists from a remote north-eastern school six weeks ago.
President Jonathan was forced this month to accept international help. American planes have been searching for the girls, and Britain, France, Israel and other countries have sent experts in surveillance and hostage negotiation.
A US defence department spokesman said he cannot confirm the reports about the missing girls at this point. The official was not authorised to speak publicly.
Mr Jonathan’s reluctance to accept offered help for weeks was seen as an unwillingness to have outsiders looking in on what is considered a very corrupt force.
Soldiers have said they are not properly paid, are dumped in dangerous bush with no supplies and that the Boko Haram extremists holding the girls are better equipped than they are.
Some have said officers enriching themselves off the defence budget have no interest in halting the five-year-old uprising that has killed thousands.
Earlier this month, soldiers near mutiny fired on the car of a commanding officer who had come to pay his respects to 12 dead soldiers who were said to have been unnecessarily killed by the insurgents in a night-time ambush.
The military is also accused of killing thousands of detainees held illegally in their barracks – some by shooting, some by torture and many starved to death or suffocated in overcrowded cells.
More than 300 teenagers were abducted from their school in the town of Chibok on April 15. Police say 53 escaped on their own and 276 remain captive.
A Boko Haram video showed some of the girls reciting Quranic verses in Arabic and two of them explaining why they had converted from Christianity to Islam while in captivity. Unverified reports have indicated two may have died of snake bites, that some have been forced to marry their abductors and that some may have been carried across borders into Chad and Cameroon.
Boko Haram believes western influences have corrupted Nigerian society and want to install an Islamic state under strict Shariah law, though the population of 170 million people is divided almost equally between Christians and Muslims.
Meanwhile, A trader from the market in Nigeria’s central city of Jos where two explosions left more than 130 people dead last week says police failed to act after traders alerted them about an abandoned car hours before the blasts.
Kabiru Muhammad Idris, a member of the trader’s welfare committee at the Terminus market, says police only removed the plate number from a bus after the warning. Other witnesses confirmed his testimony.
* Associated Press
Updated: May 27, 2014 04:00 AM