ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria’s government and Islamic extremists from Boko Haram have agreed to an immediate cease-fire, officials said Friday.
The fate of more than 200 missing schoolgirls abducted by the insurgents six months ago remains unclear. Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade said their release is still being negotiated.
Boko Haram negotiators “assured that the schoolgirls and all other people in their captivity are all alive and well,” Mike Omeri, the government spokesman on the insurgency, told a news conference.
The chief of defense staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, announced the truce and ordered his troops to immediately comply with the agreement.
“Already, the terrorists have announced a cease-fire in furtherance of their desire for peace. In this regard, the government of Nigeria has, in similar vein, declared a cease-fire,” Omeri said.
He confirmed there had been direct negotiations this week about the release of the abducted girls. Another official said the talks took place in neighboring Chad. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to reporters.
Boko Haram had been demanding the release of detained extremists in exchange for the girls. President Goodluck Jonathan originally said he could not countenance a prisoner swap.
Boko Haram — the group’s nickname means “education is sinful” — attracted international condemnation with the April 15 kidnapping of 276 girls and young women writing final examinations at a boarding school in the remote northeastern town of Chibok.
Dozens escaped on their own in the first couple of days, but 219 remain missing. Their plight drew protests around the world with demands that the military and government get them free.
Dozens more schoolgirls and boys, young women and men have been kidnapped by the extremists in a 5-year-old insurgency. Jonathan has said that the extremists have killed 13,000 civilians.