Should kidnapping be rewarded with negotiations?
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The hashtag campaign #BringBackOurGirls has been largely forgotten in the public’s short attention span, with succeeding crises of the day taking its place.
But Nigeria’s Boko Haram apparently has not forgotten about the more than 200 young women and girls kidnapped from a boarding school in the town of Chibok over a year ago. It seems the girls are still alive and are being used as bargaining chips.
According to the Associated Press, Boko Haram is offering to trade the girls for militant leaders held by the Nigerian government.
A human rights activist told AP that the Islamist militants’ offer is limited to the girls from the school in northeastern Nigeria whose mass abduction in April 2014 ignited worldwide outrage and a campaign to "Bring Back Our Girls" that stretched to the White House.
The new initiative reopens an offer made last year to the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan to release the 219 students in exchange for 16 Boko Haram detainees, the activist said. The man, who was involved in negotiations with Boko Haram last year and is close to current negotiators, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters on this sensitive issue.
"Another window of opportunity opened" in the last few days, according to Fred Eno, who has been negotiating with Boko Haram for more than a year. He said he could not discuss details but explained that the recent slew of Boko Haram bloodletting — some 350 people killed in the past nine days — is consistent with past ratcheting up of violence as the militants seek a stronger negotiating position.
Presidential adviser Femi Adesina said on Saturday that Nigeria’s government "will not be averse" to talks with Boko Haram. "Most wars, however furious or vicious, often end around the negotiation table," he said.
The abduction of April 15, 2014, involved 274 mostly Christian girls. Dozens escaped early on, but 219 remain missing. A month later, a video emerged showing the girls wearing the hijab and reciting the Quran. One of them said they had converted to Islam. Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, warned: "You won’t see the girls again unless you release our brothers you have captured."
There have been unconfirmed reports that some of the girls have been taken to neighboring countries, and that some have been radicalized and trained as fighters. At least three were reported to have died — one from dysentery, one from malaria and one from a snake bite.
Last year, Shekau said the girls were an "old story," and that he had married them off to his fighters.
AP noted that Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds more—girls, boys, women and young men. Some have become sex slaves, while others are used as fighters, according to former captives.