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Sat Dec 03 04:27:11 SAST 2016

Boko ready to discuss release of 83 girls

Reuters | 2016-10-19 07:56:24.0

Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which last week freed 21 of the more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls it kidnapped in April 2014 in northeast Nigeria, is willing to negotiate the release of another 83 girls, says President Muhammadu Buhari's spokesman.

Around 220 girls were taken from their school in Chibok where Boko Haram has waged a seven-year insurgency, killing thousands and displacing more than two million people.

The main faction of Boko Haram, led by Abubakar Shekau, released 21 of the girls last week after the Red Cross and the Swiss government brokered a deal.

Boko Haram has split, with a big group moving away from shadowy leader Shekau over his failure to adhere to guidance from the Iraq- and Syria-based Islamic State.

The part of Boko Haram under the control of Shekau said the rest of the kidnapped Chibok girls - about 115 - were with the IS-allied splinter group, according to Garba Shehu, spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari.

"These 21 released girls are supposed to be tale-bearers to tell the Nigerian government that this [Shekau] faction of Boko Haram has 83 more Chibok girls," Shehu said.

"The faction [of Shekau] said it is ready to negotiate if the government is willing to sit down with them," said Shehu, adding the state was prepared to negotiate with Boko Haram.

Boko Haram last year pledged allegiance to IS, which in August named Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the group's leader for West Africa in its weekly magazine, al-Naba.

But that appointment was later dismissed in a 10-minute audio clip on social media by a man purporting to be Shekau, exposing divisions within the jihadist group.

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