Nigeria’s jihadist group Boko Haram on Thursday released 21 of the more than 200 kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped since April 2014 in a prisoner swap deal with the Nigerian government.
The girls were exchanged for four Boko Haram militants in Banki, northeast Nigeria.
The Nigerian presidency said in a statement that the girls were released after negotiations between Boko Haram, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Nigerian and Swiss governments.
The statement added that negotiations are ongoing, raising the prospect of more releases.
“It is confirmed that 21 of the missing Chibok girls have been released and are in the custody of the department of state services,” presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said in the statement.
“The release of the girls… is an outcome of negotiations between the administration and the Boko Haram brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government,” Shehu said. “The negotiations will continue.”
The girls were brought to Kumshe, which is 15 kilometres (nine miles) from Banki where a military base is stationed, in ICRC vehicles. The four Boko Haram militants were brought to Banki from Maiduguri in a military helicopter from where they were driven to Kumshe in ICRC vehicles.From Kumshe, the Chibok girls were taken by helicopter to Maiduguri, the capital of northeast Borno state.
“The 21 (Chibok) girls arrived (in) Banki around 3:00 am (0200 GMT) where they found a military helicopter waiting. They were immediately ushered into the helicopter and flown to Maiduguri,” said a government source.
The identity of the girls has yet to be confirmed, said Bring Back Our Girls campaigner Aisha Yesufu.
The over 200 girls were captured from the northeast Nigeria town of Chibok in April 2014 by Boko Haram militants as part of their fight to establish an Islamist state in the region.
Out of the 276 girls kidnapped, scores escaped in the hours after the kidnapping, while another was rescued earlier this year.
In September, the Nigerian government said that it had opened negotiations with Boko Haram to secure the release of the remaining girls but that the talks were derailed due to a split in the extremist group.