Justin Welby: We need 'active negotiation' with Boko Haram

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Following his condemnation of the Boko Haram kidnappings in Nigeria last week, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has once again spoken out; urging "active contact" with the abductors.

More than 200 girls were taken from their school in Chibok, Borno state in northern Nigeria on April 14 by members of the extremist Muslim faction. 276 are still thought to be missing and a worldwide campaign has been initiated to bring them to safety.

The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has been trending on Twitter, with celebrities and politicians such as Michelle Obama, Anne Hathaway and Angelina Jolie all pictured supporting the campaign.

"This is an atrocious and inexcusable act and my prayers and thoughts go out to the young people and their families at this upsetting time," Welby said in a statement released by Lambeth Palace on 7 May.

"I appeal to those who have taken these schoolgirls to release them immediately and unharmed. This is in a part of Nigeria I have visited and in a country whose people are close to my heart. Let your hearts be open in compassion and mercy to those who have suffered so much."

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend on Sunday, Welby further warned that the girls are at "colossal risk" while under the charge of the "utterly merciless" Boko Haram, whose name translates as 'Western education is forbidden'.

The Archbishop, who has been involved in past negotiations with violent groups in Nigeria – including a forerunner of Boko Harm – said talks will no doubt prove difficult, but attempts must be made.

"[The girls are] in the hands of a very disparate group which is extremely irrational and difficult to deal with and utterly merciless in the example it's shown in the past, and it must be a huge concern," he said, before noting that there are "many layers" to the leadership of extremist groups.

"You have a very, very difficult inner core, and I think negotiation there is extremely complicated, though it needs to be tried....There needs to be active negotiation, active contact with all the different layers."

Welby was also questioned on the response of Christians in Nigeria to the increasing Boko Haram attacks. "They have a right to defend their lives and the lives of their children and their families," he asserted.

"But at the heart of Christian teaching is the example of Jesus who said forgive your enemies and forgave his own enemies on the cross."
It was announced last week that experts from the UK and US have been sent to Nigeria to help with the rescue effort amid increasing concerns that the girls will be sold into slavery.

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