Hopes rise for return of girls kidnapped by Boko Haram

Questions surround deal between Nigerian government and militants

Rachel Daniel holds a photograph of her abducted daughter Rose Daniel as her son Bukar sits alongside at their home in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Photograph: Joe Penney/Reuters

Rachel Daniel holds a photograph of her abducted daughter Rose Daniel as her son Bukar sits alongside at their home in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Photograph: Joe Penney/Reuters

 

The Nigerian government claims it has agreed a ceasefire with the Islamist militant group Boko Haram and is negotiating the release of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped in April.

Spokesman Mike Omeri told a press conference on Friday: “Already, the terrorists have announced a ceasefire in furtherance of their desire for peace. In this regard, the government of Nigeria has, in similar vein, declared a ceasefire.”

Boko Haram negotiators “assured that the schoolgirls and all other people in their captivity are all alive and well”, Mr Omeri added.

He confirmed that there had been direct negotiations this week about the release of the abducted girls, who were taken from the northeastern town of Chibok six months ago, prompting a worldwide outcry.

But questions surround the purported deal, given that the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, is expected to declare his re-election bid, and positive news about the hostages and insurgency could give him a political boost.

Truce announced

The truce was announced by Nigeria’s chief of defence staff, air marshal Alex Badeh, who ordered his troops to immediately comply with the agreement, according to Nigeria’s official news agency.

Mr Jonathan’s principal secretary, Hassan Tukur, told Agence France-Presse that an agreement to end hostilities had been reached following talks, as well as a deal to release the 219 girls held captive.

Mr Tukur said he had represented the government at two meetings with the Islamist extremists in neighbouring Chad, mediated by that country’s president, Idriss Deby.

“Boko Haram issued the ceasefire as a result of the discussions we have been having with them,” said Mr Tukur. “They have agreed to release the Chibok girls. “

There was also uncertainty about the identity of Danladi Ahmadu, who was said by Mr Tukur to be Boko Haram’s representative at the talks and who gave a radio interview broadcast on Friday morning.

Multiple analysts cast doubt on Mr Ahmadu’s credibility as a Boko Haram envoy, while Nigeria has made similar ceasefire claims in the past that failed to materialise.

Negotiator

Shehu Sani, a Boko Haram expert who has negotiated with the group before on behalf of the government, told AFP that he had never heard of Mr Ahmadu. “If Boko Haram wanted to declare a ceasefire, it would come from the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau.”

Boko Haram had been demanding the release of detained extremists in exchange for the girls. Mr Jonathan originally said he could not countenance a prisoner swap. – (Guardian service)