Exclusive: Boko Haram abandons demands for its top commanders to be released in negotiations with the Nigerian government that could see “gradual” release of schoolgirls as early as next week, sources tell Telegraph UK.
Boko Haram has dropped demands for the release of top commanders in talks with the Nigerian government and is prepared to start releasing up to half its kidnapped schoolgirls in coming days, sources close to the group have said.
The militant Islamist group, which kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls a month ago, is willing to conduct a “gradual” release of its hostages in return for the release of Boko Haram prisoners in Nigerian jails, it was claimed.
In a significant concession, the group has abandoned demands for its top commanders to be released, seemingly aware that this would be politically impossible for the Nigerian government.
The Telegraph first reported details of Boko Haram’s offer of an imminent prisoner exchange last Tuesday, when sources close to to some of the militants’ families said that a senior Islamic cleric from northern Nigeria would be appointed to mediate on its behalf with the government.
The cleric has since been joined by a former aide to one of the group’s founders. Neither man has been named, possibly for their own safety. While the Nigerian government has insisted that it is not willing to enter prisoner swap negotiations, the source claimed that dialogue had already been going in secret for several days.
“Contrary to the public rejection of any swap deal by the Nigerian government, there are some on-the-ground talks taking place,” the source said. “An agreement was reached about two or three days ago in principle to start releasing some prisoners.”
He said that among the prisoners that the group wanted released would be wives and families of Boko Haram fighters, some of whom have been taken into custody by the Nigerian government in order to exert emotional pressure on the fighters themselves. “The group also has a list of lower-level fighters that it wants released as well, but they are not high-profile ones,” the source added.
He said that in exchange, Boko Haram was willing to start a “gradual” release of around 100 of the girls – possibly beginning as early as the coming the week. “Depending on how the other side responds, the girls will be released in small groups. They will be left at a certain safe location, and the authorities will then be told as to where they can pick them up from.”
Details of the offer emerged as officials investigated reports that Boko Haram was responsible for the kidnapping of up to 10 Chinese workers in neighbouring Cameroon, where the group now also has a presence.