Boko Haram cease-fire hopes fade as militant group grabs more girls

The Nigerian government claimed earlier this week that it had reached a cease-fire deal with the Islamist group. But the reported kidnapping of between 20 and 70 more schoolgirls, on top of the more than 200 it already holds, is souring hopes for peace.

Olamikan Gbemiga/AP/File
People demonstrate last week in Abuja, Nigeria, calling on the government to rescue girls taken from a secondary school in Chibok region. Days after Nigeria's military raised hopes by announcing Islamic extremists have agreed to a cease-fire, Boko Haram is still fighting and there is no word on the 200-plus schoolgirls held hostage for six months.

Anywhere between 20 and 70 girls and women have been abducted by Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria. The abductions come just days after a truce was announced out of secret talks between the Nigerian government and the extremist group, according to reports.

Those talks took place in Chad this week and may still be going on, according to Reuters. But the new kidnappings are dashing some hopes, raised by the Goodluck Jonathan administration in Nigeria several days ago, that Boko Haram insurgents are on the verge of releasing some 200 to 300 schoolgirls abducted more than six months ago, as part of the current talks.

On Oct. 17, Nigeria’s chief of defense was quoted widely as having engineered a ceasefire in “all theaters” of operation against Boko Haram, though the news was taken with some skepticism. Nigeria has seen a number of botched truces with the insurgents. 

The ceasefire news came tied to a resolution of the kidnapping on Apr. 14 of the schoolgirls in Chibok as they were gathered to take final exams. The event caused an international storm largely organized through the Bring Back our Girls movement; First Lady Michelle Obama called for the girls' release. Three weeks later in early May the ostensible leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, issued a video stating he was ready to “sell” the girls off. 

Boko Haram has operated with near impunity in the northeast, killing indiscriminately in ruthless hit and run attacks, and has lately been taking and holding towns. The shadowy group operates without a great deal of formal organization and discipline experts say.

Two of its stated aims in recent years are to create an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria’s northeast – and to undermine the Jonathan government in Abuja, which the group says has left the majority Muslim northern part of the country poor and impoverished. The new kidnappings appear to effectively undermine trust in the central government analysts say. 

The latest abductions of at least 25 females took place on Saturday in a remote mountain village near the border with Cameroon according to The New York Times, and a report cites a local bishop, Stephen Mamza, who operates out of the state capital in Yola: 

...Residents told the bishop that scores of gunmen on motorcycles stormed their village, Garta, on Saturday…. The gunmen burned houses in the village, slit the throats of four men and went house to house searching for young women, eventually taking away around 60, according to the bishop and local news reports.

"Those who were abducted are from my hometown," Bishop Mamza said by phone on Thursday. "Of course it is credible. This is actually what is happening on a daily basis, only it is not reported."

Reuters today cites a number of locals in Nigeria and Africa experts abroad who feel the Jonathan administration acted too quickly to announce good news coming out of the Boko Haram talks in Chad, hoping to create positive voter feeling ahead of elections early next year

"I sense Nigeria rushed to announce the deal with electoral-political calculations in mind," said Mark Schroeder, vice president of Africa Analysis at the Stratfor consultancy. "Getting a victory with the schoolgirls and a short-term truce with Boko Haram could be positive for President Goodluck Jonathan's campaign."

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