Obasanjo holds talks with Boko Haram to free schoolgirls

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LAGOS (AFP) – Nigeria’s ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo has met with people close to Boko Haram in an attempt to broker the release of more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls, a source close to the talks told AFP.

The meeting took place last weekend at Obasanjo’s farm in southern Ogun state and included relatives of some senior Boko Haram fighters as well as intermediaries and the former president, the source said.

“The meeting was focused on how to free the girls through negotiation,” said the source who requested anonymity, referring to the girls seized on April 14 from the remote northeastern town of Chibok, Borno state.

Reports of the talks emerged as Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, said the girls had been located while casting doubt on the prospect of rescuing them by force.

Obasanjo, who left office in 2007, has previously sought to negotiate with the insurgents, including in September 2011 after Boko Haram bombed the United Nations headquarters in Abuja.

Then, he flew to the Islamists’ base in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, to meet relatives of former Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed in police custody in 2009.

The 2011 talks did not help stem the violence and some at the time doubted if Obasanjo was dealing with people who were legitimately capable of negotiating a ceasefire.

Spokesmen for the former head of state, who remains an influential figure in Nigerian politics, could not be reached to comment on the latest reported Boko Haram talks.

But the source told AFP that Obasanjo had voiced concern about Nigeria’s acceptance of foreign military personnel to help rescue the girls.

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