Nigeria signals readiness to negotiate with abductors

Nigeria signals readiness to negotiate with abductors
Nigerians take part in a protest demanding for the release of secondary school girls abducted from the remote village of Chibok, in Asokoro, Abuja May 13, 2014.

NIGERIA - Nigeria's government signaled willingness on Tuesday to negotiate with Islamist militants holding more than 200 schoolgirls, a month after the kidnap that has provoked global outrage.

"The window of negotiation is still open," Minister of Special Duties Tanimu Turaki told Reuters by telephone.

He was speaking a day after Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau posted a video offering to release the girls in exchange for prisoners held by the government.

Senior officials say the government is exploring options and has made no commitment to negotiations for the release of the girls and Turaki declined to comment on possible talks over the kidnapping itself.

Instead, he referred to an amnesty committee that he heads set up by President Goodluck Jonathan last year to talk to the Boko Haram militants behind a five-year-old insurgency.

The committee's initial six-month mandate expired without holding direct talks with the rebels, though it has spoken to them through proxies. It has since been replaced by a standing committee empowered to conduct talks, officials said.

Boko Haram has killed thousands of people since 2009 and destabilized parts of northeast Nigeria, the country with Africa's largest population and biggest economy.

The abductions have triggered a worldwide social media campaign under the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, and prompted the United States, Britain, France and Israel to offer help or send experts to Nigeria. US surveillance aircraft were flying over remote areas of the northeast on Tuesday.

The video showed more than 110 girls sitting on the ground in a rural location, the first time they have been seen in captivity.

Though at least some of them are Christian, and Shekau described them as 'infidels', they were wearing full Islamic veils and singing and chanting Muslim prayers.

It was not clear when or where the video was filmed or whether Shekau, who sat in front of a green backdrop holding an AK-47 during part of the video, was in the same location as the girls.

Those shown were among 276 abducted on April 14 from a secondary school in the village of Chibok, Borno state, in a sparsely populated region near the borders with Cameroon, Niger and Chad. Some escaped but about 200 are still missing. The group initially threatened to sell them into slavery.

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