A British official said on Wednesday that Nigeria’s government has ruled out the possibility of releasing jailed terrorists in exchange for more than 270 schoolgirls who are being held captive by the Boko Haram terrorist group.
The Associated Press (AP) quoted Mark Simmonds, Britain’s top official for Africa, as having told journalists in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, that President Goodluck Jonathan had “made it very clear that there will be no negotiation with Boko Haram that involves a swap of abducted schoolgirls for prisoners.”
Simmonds spoke after a meeting with Jonathan.
Nigeria’s government will, however, talk to the group on reconciliation, Simmonds said, talking about his discussion with Jonathan.
“The point that also was made very clear to me is that the president was keen to continue and facilitate ongoing dialogue to find a structure and architecture of delivering lasting solution to the conflict and the cause of conflict in northern Nigeria,” Simmonds said, according to AP.
A total of 223 of 276 girls whom Boko Haram abducted from their school in the remote town of Chibok, Borno state, on April 14 are still missing, and concerns over their fate were heightened after Boko Haram's leader threatened to sell them as slaves.
Street protests were held Wednesday in Nigeria to mark one month since their kidnapping. Earlier this week, the Al-Qaeda-linked Boko Haram publicized a video showing some of the kidnapped girls, claiming they had converted to Islam.
Nigerian government officials have given conflicting responses to Boko Haram’s offer of a swap.
One senior official said on Tuesday that “all options” are now open - including negotiations or a possible military operation with foreign help - in efforts find the missing girls.
Reuben Abati, a spokesman for the Nigerian presidency, said in a statement late Wednesday that Jonathan met with Simmonds at the presidential palace in Abuja to discuss the missing girls and Britain’s role in trying to rescue them. The statement said Simmonds “reassured President Jonathan of Britain’s commitment to giving Nigeria all required assistance to find and safely rescue the abducted girls.”
Israel has joined the international effort to trace the schoolgirls, and Prime Minister Netanyahu personally pledged to help Nigeria save the missing girls.
The mass-kidnapping, which took place in April, was not the group's first attack on a school. Just two months previously the group shot and burned to death dozens of students in an attack on a boarding school.
In a similar attack in 2013, Boko Haram terrorists murdered 50 students as they slept in their dormitories. In July of that year 29 pupils and a teacher were burned alive in another school.
This year alone more than 1,500 people have been killed, despite a state of emergency imposed in three northeast states in May last year.