Jane Onyanga-Omara , USA TODAY
Some of the Nigerian girls
The 21 girls who were rescued last week after being kidnapped by the militant group Boko Haram more than two years ago have been reunited with their families.
They were among more than 200 students taken from their school in the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok by the extremists in April 2014, sparking the global “Bring Back Our Girls” social media campaign.
Speaking at a ceremony in the capital Abuja on Sunday, one of the girls said they were starved, the BBC reported. Many were forced to convert from Christianity to Islam.
Information Minister Lai Mohammed denied reports that the girls were released in exchange for four detained Boko Haram leaders. The Nigerian government also denied that a ransom was paid. Some 197 kidnapped girls are believed to remain missing.
The negotiations for the girls’ release were brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government.
Speaking Sunday, the Nigerian president’s spokesman said the Boko Haram splinter group that released the girls was willing to negotiate the release of 83 more girls.
“These 21 released girls are supposed to be tale bearers to tell the Nigerian government that this faction of Boko Haram has 83 more Chibok girls,” Garba Shehu, spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari, told Reuters by phone https://twitter.com/PhilipObin/status/787768790012551169
“The faction said it is ready to negotiate if the government is willing to sit down with them,” he said, adding that authorities were willing to negotiate.
Commenting on work to free the 83 girls, Mohammed said: “Already we are on phase two and we are already in discussions. But of course you know these are very delicate negotiations, there are some promises we made also about the confidentiality of the entire exercise and we intend to keep them.”
International Alert — a London-based peace building charity — said it worked with the United Nations Children’s Fund in Nigeria and local organizations to help reintegrate girls who escaped from Boko Haram into their communities.
“Tragically, the ordeal does not end when these girls and women escape or are rescued,” said Kimairis Toogood, an adviser for International Alert in Nigeria. “Many face rejection, and even violence, from their own families and communities due to stigma around sexual violence — especially if they return with a baby. This makes re-integration extremely difficult.”
Shehu told Reuters that the splinter group said the rest of the kidnapped Chibok girls were with the part of the group that is under the control of Abubakar Shekau, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, also known as ISIL or ISIS, in March 2015.
A number of extremists have moved away from Shekau over his failure to adhere to ISIL’s guidance, Reuters reported. In August, ISIL named Musab al-Barnawi as its new leader in west Africa.