Nigerian government on kidnapped schoolgirls: 'We know where they are'
Military officials in Nigeria have revealed that they know the whereabouts of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamic extremists Boko Haram last month, but they have not yet reached on an agreement for their release.
276 girls were abducted from their school in Chibok, northern Nigeria on April 14. Their plight has gained international attention, with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls trending on Twitter and politicians, celebrities and activists calling for their release.
The US, UK, France and China have each confirmed that specialist teams have been sent to Nigeria to assist authorities in the rescue effort, though as of yet the girls remain in captivity, over a month after they were taken.
A video recently emerged in which Boko Haram leader Abubakar Sheka announced that he would release the girls in exchange for imprisoned Muslim militants. "We will never release them until after you release our brethren," he declared.
It was initially reported that the Nigerian government was refusing to engage in negotiations, but it later became apparent that talks were in fact taking place. And despite criticism levelled at President Goodluck Jonathan for what many see as a slow response to the crisis, it was thought that the girls would begin to be released by their captors last week.
However, the latest update from military in the region indicates that the girls have been located, but negotiations have broken down and the government has decided not to risk trying to rescue them by "force".
The BBC reports that talks were held between Boko Haram leaders and an intermediary on behalf of the government, and an agreement to release 50 of the girls in exchange for 100 Boko Haram prisoners was almost reached.
However, the Nigerian government is said to have broken off the deal following a summit about the crisis which was attended by President Jonathan in Paris.
During the conference, French President François Hollande labelled Boko Haram "a major threat to West and Central Africa" and African leaders declared "total war" against the extremists.
"Boko Haram is an organization that is linked to terrorism in Africa and whose will is to destabilize the north of Nigeria, certainly, and all the neighbouring countries of Nigeria and beyond that region," Hollande said.
It is not yet known why Nigerian officials pulled out of the deal, but Chief of Defence Staff Air Marshal Alex Bedah insisted that trying to take the girls without reaching an agreement first is not an option.
"The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are," he told demonstrators on Monday.
"But where they are held, can we go there with force? We can't kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back.
"Nobody should come and say the Nigerian military does not know what it's doing," he added. "We know what we are doing."
Badeh also shared that President Jonathan is "solidly behind" the decision, and has "empowered us [the military] to do the work".
Boko Haram – which translates as 'Western education is sacrilege' - was officially labelled a 'Foreign Terrorist Organisation' by the US government last year. It has ties to Al-Qaeda, and is responsible for over two thousand deaths in Nigeria since 2009.