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Islamist militants from the rebel group Boko Haram have reportedly dropped demands for the release of top commanders in exchange for the girls they kidnapped from a Nigerian school in April.

However, a source close to the group says they are in talks with the Nigerian government to release up to half of the kidnapped girls in the coming days.

According to the BBC:

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.

And although the Nigerian government has insisted that they are not willing to negotiate a prisoner swap, the source claims that dialogue has already been going on 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.”

The news comes as Nigeria and its neighboring countries, including Cameroon, Benin, Chad and Niger, declared “war” on Boko Haram at an international summit in Paris this weekend.

The offensive will involve co-ordination of surveillance efforts aimed at finding the girls, the sharing of intelligence, the tightening of border controls, and a regional counter-terrorism strategy with Western help.

But the announcement could leave Boko Haram leaders upset and encourage them to withdraw their offer. As of Monday, the offer is said to still be in the works.

We’ll keep you updated with the latest in the rescue effort.


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