Talks between Nigeria and Islamist militant group Boko Haram aimed at securing the release of 200 abducted girls have not been jeopardised by a surge in violence, Nigeria’s foreign minister said on Monday.
Aminu Wali said negotiations were continuing this week in Chad to try to free the school girls, who were seized by militants in April in a kidnapping that shocked the world.
“There are still negotiations going on and we expect a lot of progress to be made. Soon we will announce exactly where we are,” Wali told journalists after meeting French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
Nigeria’s military announced a ceasefire 10 days ago ahead of the negotiations, but since then bombings, killings and kidnappings have continued in Africa’s top oil producer.
Suspected Boko Haram militants killed at least 17 people and abducted dozens in a series of attacks in the central region of Nigeria’s northeast Borno state over the weekend. At least 25 girls were kidnapped from a remote northeastern town a few days earlier.
However, Nigerian authorities say five years of insurgency have become mixed up with broader criminality, and that Boko Haram itself is highly fragmented.
“Boko Haram are saying that those ones (attacks) were done by other rogues and criminals … Kidnapping has being going on in Nigeria for some time … by miscreants,” Wali said.
He added that the government also suspected “dissidents of the main Boko Haram body” were trying to scupper the ceasefire.
“But certainly this is not something that will threaten the negotiations going on. And we will make an effort also to bring back those that have been kidnapped,” Wali said.
Chadian officials also say they are optimistic about deal, which could involve a prisoner swap, although Nigerians will be reluctant to release dangerous individuals who could cause more carnage down the line.
Nigerians weary of a conflict that has killed many thousands since Boko Haram launched its uprising for an Islamic state in 2009 appear sceptical of the alleged truce.
But what counts is ultimately whether the faction with which Nigeria is conversing has direct control over the girls. Parents of the abducted girls say they have doubts, but remain hopeful. (Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Crispian Balmer)