Nigeria army 'knows where Boko Haram are holding girls'

A deal to free 50 of the girls in return for the release of 100 Boko Haram detainees fell through, as Will Ross reports

The Nigerian military says it know where the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram are but will not attempt a rescue.

Nigeria's Chief of Defence Staff said it was "good news for the parents," although he admitted the military would not risk "going there with force".

More than 200 girls were abducted by Boko Haram gunmen from their school in northern Nigeria in April.

Earlier, the BBC learned that a deal to release some of the girls was close but was called off by the government.

The BBC's Will Ross in the capital, Abuja, says an intermediary met leaders of the Islamist group and visited the place where they were being held.

He says agreement was almost reached to release 50 of the girls in exchange for the release of 100 Boko Haram prisoners.

But the Nigerian government pulled out of the deal after President Goodluck Jonathan attended a conference on the crisis in Paris. The reasons for the withdrawal are unclear.

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Analysis: Will Ross, BBC News in Abuja
Chief of Defence Staff Air Marshal Alex Badeh, front, and other military chiefs wait to address protesters in Abuja, Nigeria - 26 May 2014 Air Marshal Alex Badeh, front, said Nigeria would "get the girls back"

Having not heard any official news before about the search-an- rescue effort, the parents of the abducted girls at least now have a glimmer of hope.

The Nigerian military says it knows where they are being held by Boko Haram, but many Nigerians will be sceptical about this statement. It is impossible to verify, and throughout the conflict the government and the military have issued many reports totally at odds with eyewitnesses' accounts in northern Nigeria.

The Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, gave no details about where the abducted students were being held or whether they were in one location.

Even if they have all been located, getting them out safely using force would be extremely dangerous and that is why many analysts suggest a negotiated settlement is still preferable.

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Nigeria's government is under pressure to do more to tackle the group and bring about the girls' release.

Thousands of people have died since Boko Haram began a violent campaign against the Nigerian government in 2009 and in the subsequent security crackdown.

'Good news'

Chief of Defence Staff Air Marshal Alex Badeh said on Monday that "the good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are" but said he couldn't reveal the location.

"But where they are held, can we go there with force? We can't kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back," he added.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan sits alongside Cameroon President Paul Biya, left, and French President Francois Hollande at a summit at the Elysee Palace in Paris - 17 May 2014 A deal to release some of the girls was close but President Jonathan pulled out after the Paris summit

Mr Badeh was addressing demonstrators who had marched to the ministry of defence in Abuja in support of the military's fight against Boko Haram.

"Nobody should come and say the Nigerian military does not know what it's doing," he told the crowd. "We know what we are doing.

"The president is solidly behind us. The president has empowered us to do the work."

The girls, who are mainly Christian, are thought to be held in a remote forested area of the north-eastern Borno state, close to the border with Chad and Cameroon.

Nigeria previously insisted it would not agree to free Boko Haram members in return for their release but the information ministry insisted that all options were on the table.

The UK, the US, China and France are among those countries to have sent teams of experts and equipment to help to locate the girls.

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Who are Boko Haram?
A screen-grab taken on 12 May 2014, from a video released by Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has threatened to treat the girls as slaves
  • Founded in 2002
  • Initially focused on opposing "Western" education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009 to create Islamic state
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria - also attacked police and UN headquarters in capital, Abuja
  • Some three million people affected
  • Declared terrorist group by US in 2013

Who are Boko Haram?

Profile: Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau

Why Nigeria has not defeated Boko Haram

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