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Twenty-four Chibok girls to return to school - Nigerian officials

by Reuters
Thursday, 11 May 2017 16:14 GMT

A group of 82 Chibok girls, who were held captive for three years by Islamist militants, wait to be released in exchange for several militant commanders, near Kumshe, Nigeria May 6, 2017. REUTERS/Zanah Mustapha

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On Saturday, 82 girls were released in exchange for members of the jihadist group

ABUJA, May 11 (Reuters) - The 82 girls freed by Boko Haram on Saturday after being held captive for three years are still waiting to be reunited with their families, while all the girls found last year will be heading back to school in September, Nigerian officials said.

Twenty four girls, who were among around 270 kidnapped by the Islamist militant group from the town of Chibok in northeast Nigeria in April 2014, are to return to school in September, the president's spokesman said on Thursday.

Those going back to school include the 21 girls freed last October in a deal brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross and three others who escaped or were rescued.

"Government is preparing the girls to go back to school in September this year because they have lost so much academically," said presidency spokesman Garba Shehu. "It is not all the 103 so far released, but 24 of them," he added.

None of the girls released on Saturday were among those returning to school in September as they were still undergoing medical and psychological treatment in the capital, Abuja, that should last two to three weeks, the government's Twitter feed stated.

On Saturday, 82 girls were released in exchange for members of the jihadist group that has killed 15,000 people since 2009 in an insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic caliphate in the northeast.

Aisha Jummai Alhassan, the minister of women affairs, told reporters on Thursday that photographs of the girls had been sent to families in Chibok for identification.

The minister said the government was careful about who was granted access to the 24 girls who left captivity last year. They are in Abuja taking part in a rehabilitation programme.

"The parents of the #Chibokgirls are free to visit them at any time. We will never prevent them from seeing their daughters," a government tweet quoted Alhassan as saying.

Three years ago, the abduction of the girls from their secondary school by Boko Haram sparked global outrage and a celebrity-backed campaign #bringbackourgirls.

For more than two years there was no sign of the girls. But the discovery of one of them with a baby last May raised hopes for their safety, with a further two girls found in later months and a group of 21 released by the Islamist militants in October.

Mediator and lawyer Zannah Mustapha said some of the abducted girls refused to be freed with the 82 girls last weekend, fuelling fears that they have been radicalised by the jihadists, and may feel afraid, ashamed or even too powerful to return to their old lives.

(Reporting by Felix Onuah and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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