Protesters boosted by Nigerian military claims

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ABUJA  (AFP) – Protesters campaigning in support of more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram militants on Tuesday welcomed military claims that they had located the teenagers.

The comments by Chief of Defence Staff Alex Badeh on Monday that they had located the girls was the talk of activists and pressure groups who gathered for their regular march in Abuja.

“When the defence chief said that we have identified the location and the camp of these terrorists, hope was restored,” said the head of the National Youth Council of Nigeria, Abdullahi Abdulmajeed.

Atoye Ariyo Dare, secretary-general of the Grand Alliance Against Terrorism, agreed, saying they were “reassured, hopeful, happy”.

The development lifted the mood among those who may have begun to fear the worst, with the hostage crisis now in its seventh week and no apparent end in sight.

But Dare said that while people were pleased, it was only the “second-to-last step”.

“The last step is our prayers. Our hope is that these girls will be released, secure, back home, hale, hearty and alive,” he added.

Badeh’s comments came as it emerged that former president Olesugun Obasanjo had held talks with people close to Boko Haram in an attempt to broker the girls’ release.

The government’s official position has been not to negotiate with the militants over a proposed prisoner swap.

But Abdulmajeed and Dare said that “all options” should be considered, including dialogue, to end the situation.

Hadiza Bala Usman, the co-ordinator of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, said the development backed up their call for advocacy.

But she said the government still had to give more answers.

“It’s a question we need to throw back at them, so they can clarify. Is there any middle ground between ‘we are not negotiating’ and ‘we are not embarking on a combat (mission)’? I don’t know what that means,” she said.

“But it’s good for the chief of defence staff to clarify to Nigerians what he means when he says that on the one hand the government is not going to negotiate and on the other hand the government is not going to use force.”

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