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Missing Nigerian schoolgirls start second month in captivity

Some of the 276 flowers, placed by the The Christian Defense Coalition during a prayer vigil May 14, 2014 in front of the Embassy of Nigeria in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER)

ABUJA: More than 200 schoolgirls Wednesday began their second month as Boko Haram hostages, as international powers ramped up efforts to track down the group.

Lawmakers began debating a request from President Goodluck Jonathan for a six-month extension to a state of emergency first imposed in three northeast states worst affected by the violence exactly a year ago.

A total of 223 of the 276 girls who were abducted from their school in the remote town of Chibok, Borno state, on April 14 are still missing. Street protests were held to mark the one-month anniversary of their kidnapping.

In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that a Sentinel surveillance aircraft and a military team would be sent to Abuja as part of the international rescue operation.

In Paris, President Francois Hollande’s office said the leaders of Benin, Cameroon, Niger and Chad were due to meet with Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan in the French capital Saturday for a security summit.

Representatives from the European Union, Britain and the U.S. would also attend, the Elysee said.

“The meeting will discuss ... how to cut off [Boko Haram] by intelligence, how to train to fight and drive out the killers,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius added.

“France is not taking anyone’s position, but our role is to help Africans ensure security because there can’t be any solution without democracy, development and security,” he said.

Boko Haram Monday released a video purporting to show about 130 of the missing girls and claimed they had converted to Islam. All of them were later identified as attending the school that was attacked in Chibok.

The group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, suggested they could be freed in a prisoner exchange.

Special Duties Minister Taminu Turaki has said that the government had always been willing to talk with the insurgents.

Jonathan and his government have been widely criticized for their slow response to the kidnapping.

But they were forced to react in the face of a growing social media campaign that has won wide support across the world and contributed to international pressure.

Specialist U.S., British, French and Israeli teams have been sent to help in the search operation, which Nigeria’s military has said is concentrated on the Sambisa forest area of Borno state.

There are fears, though, that the girls may have been split into groups and taken into neighboring Chad or Cameroon, which Boko Haram has used as bases to launch attacks and safe havens in the past.

Nigeria’s senators summoned the ministers of defense and police affairs, as well as military and security chiefs, to brief them about the application to extend the state of emergency Thursday, as the issue was discussed in the lower House of Representatives.

By law, the request has to be approved by two-thirds of both of the chambers.

“It is the tradition of the Senate to appraise and assess the performance of the state of emergency before we debate” any further extension, said Senate majority leader Victor Ndoma-Egba.

Jonathan is facing calls to explore a negotiated settlement with Boko Haram given the apparent lack of progress in curbing the violence after the state of emergency was imposed on May 14 last year.

Initial gains from a surge of troops to Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, tighter security, as well as measures such as curfews and cutting the mobile phone networks, appear to have been lost.

Attacks have increased on rural areas, leading to mounting civilian casualties. More than 1,500 are estimated to have been killed this year alone.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 15, 2014, on page 11.

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Summary

More than 200 schoolgirls Wednesday began their second month as Boko Haram hostages, as international powers ramped up efforts to track down the group.

Lawmakers began debating a request from President Goodluck Jonathan for a six-month extension to a state of emergency first imposed in three northeast states worst affected by the violence exactly a year ago.

Specialist U.S., British, French and Israeli teams have been sent to help in the search operation, which Nigeria's military has said is concentrated on the Sambisa forest area of Borno state.

Jonathan is facing calls to explore a negotiated settlement with Boko Haram given the apparent lack of progress in curbing the violence after the state of emergency was imposed on May 14 last year.


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