UK team arrives to help Nigeria find girls seized by Islamist rebels

by Reuters
Friday, 9 May 2014 12:28 GMT

A protestor holds a sign as she demonstrates against the kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria, outside the Nigerian Embassy in London May 9, 2014. REUTERS/ Olivia Harris

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President Goodluck Jonathan has admitted he does not know where the girls are, and the military is struggling to tackle its security woes in the turbulent northeast

ABUJA/GENEVA, May 9 (Reuters) - British experts arrived in Nigeria on Friday to advise the government on how to find and rescue 200 schoolgirls abducted by Islamist insurgents last month in an attack that, along with the authorities' slow response, has stirred global outrage.

The Boko Haram rebels' bloody struggle for an Islamic state has killed thousands since it erupted in mid-2009 and has destabilised swathes of the northeast of Africa's top oil producer, as well as neighbours Cameroon and Niger.

Militants stormed a secondary school in the village of Chibok, near the Cameroon border, on April 14, and kidnapped the girls, who were taking exams at the time. Fifty have since escaped, but more than 200 remain with the insurgents.

President Goodluck Jonathan promised on Thursday to find the girls but the hostage crisis overshadowed his opening address to a World Economic Forum (WEF) designed to showcase investment opportunities in what is Africa's biggest economy.

But he has admitted he does not know where they are, and the military is struggling to tackle its security woes in the turbulent northeast as Boko Haram grows bolder.

Jonathan thanked countries including the United States, Britain, France and China for their support in trying to rescue the girls. All have offered assistance.

"A team of UK experts who will advise and support the Nigerian authorities in its response to the abduction of over 200 school girls touched down in Abuja this morning," a statement from the British Foreign Office said. They included diplomats, aid workers and ministry of defence officials.

"The team will be working closely with U.S. counterparts and others to coordinate efforts" as well as looking at longer term solutions to the crisis, the statement said.

The revolt has displaced over 250,000 people in Nigeria and 60,000 have fled the country, U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesman Adrian Edwards said in Geneva on Friday. UNHCR is "alarmed at the recent wave of attacks on civilians", he said.

A militant attack on the market town of Gamburu early on Monday left at least 125 people dead, police said.

"The brutality and frequency of these attacks is unprecedented. The past two months have seen multiple kidnappings and deaths, creating population displacement both inside Nigeria and into neighbouring countries," Edwards said.

(Reporting by Tim Cocks in Abuja and Lanre Ola in Maiduguri, Tom Miles in Geneva and Guy Faulconbridge in London, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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