UK offers spy plane to aid Nigeria schoolgirls search

image copyrightReuters
image captionNigerian officials are criticised for response to the kidnappings, as protesters demand the children's return

David Cameron has offered to send a spy plane to Nigeria to help search for more than 200 girls held by extremists.

Defending local efforts to find the girls, the prime minister insisted authorities were investing in counter-terrorism and training their army.

The Military of Defence confirmed the surveillance aircraft offered to Nigeria was a RAF Sentinel R1 spy plane, which has a crew of five.

The schoolgirls were taken by Islamist militants Boko Haram on 14 April.

Mr Cameron also pledged UK support to a global fund set up to protect schools.

Experts from the UK have already been sent to help with the search for the 200-plus schoolgirls, who were taken from their boarding school in the town of Chibok in north-eastern Nigeria.

The team was sent to provide planning help and advice on co-ordination to the local authorities.

Officials in the country had been criticised for their slow response to the kidnappings.

image copyrightAFP
image captionBoko Haram released a video earlier this week in which three of the captured girls spoke

"They do face a very vicious terrorist organisation in terms of Boko Haram, they are investing in and training their armed forces and counter-terrorism abilities," Mr Cameron told MPs.

'Protecting schools'

"We have worked with them on that and we are willing to do more work with them on that, particularly if we can make sure that proper processes are in place for dealing with human rights areas.

"But we should help across a broad range of areas, not just counter-terrorism, surveillance and helping them find these people, but also working with the global fund promoted by the former prime minister [Gordon Brown]... in terms of protecting more schools."

Mr Cameron was responding during Prime Minister's Questions to Labour MP Tom Clarke, who, referring to the general situation in the north of Nigeria, said the Abuja government had "not lifted a finger to protect its own citizens".

The prime minister insisted the Nigerian authorities were trying to tackle Boko Haram.

He also confirmed he would support the efforts of his predecessor and the UN's special envoy for education, Mr Brown, in setting up a fund to protect schools.

Military team

Meanwhile, the MoD said Mr Cameron's offer of the surveillance plane would include an intelligence team in Abuja to help analyse information about the girls' whereabouts.

The proposed military team, which would be embedded within army headquarters, would act as a liaison between the intelligence cell and Nigerian officers.

image copyrightAFP
image captionBoko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau uses the video to call for the group's imprisoned fighters to be freed

The US has already sent surveillance assistance and has teams helping on the ground in Nigeria.

Earlier this week, Boko Haram released a video apparently showing about 130 kidnapped girls.

The leader of the militant group, Abubakar Shekau, said the children would be held until all imprisoned militants had been freed.

Three of the girls - wearing full-length cloaks - are shown speaking in the 27-minute video, obtained by French news agency AFP.

Two girls say they were Christian and have converted to Islam, while the other says she is Muslim.

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