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Africa

Rescue of Chibok girl a 'significant development'

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has met with a girl who had been held by Boko Haram for over two years. Security expert Ryan Cummings says the rescue raises more questions than answers.

Amina Ali met with the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday. She is the first of 219 abducted Chibok girls to be found after more than two years in captivity.

Amina and her mother Binta flew from the Borno state capital Maiduguri to the capital, Abuja.

Boko Haram fighters seized 276 girls from the government school in the remote Borno town of Chibok on April 14, 2014. More than 50 of them escaped in the hours that followed. The abduction provoked global outrage and brought worldwide attention to the conflict but until Amina's escape, there were few indications of the girls' whereabouts or possible release.

DW talked to Ryan Cummings, director of the South African risk analysis group Signal Risk, about why it has been difficult to find the abductees, even with modern technology.

DW: Do you see anything significant about this young girl's appearance at this time?

Ryan Cummings: I think this is quite a significant development in the fate of the Chibok girls. From a lot of the information that has been received from former captives,not necessarily from Chibok , who had claimed to have seen the girls, there were suggestions that they were held under quite heavy security by Boko Haram. So obviously, the rescue of this individual is a significant development but it does raise quite a lot of questions as to why she was detached from the other 218 schoolgirls who remain in Boko Haram captivity.

Amina's rescue comes shortly before the first anniversary of Buhari's swearing- in as president. Is this likely to give a boost to his presidency or will it put pressure on him to send in rescue squads?

I think the key issue is that the Chibok girls have come to be something of a yardstick or litmus test of the government's progress - or lack of - in the Boko Haram insurgency. A lot of individuals who have been tracking this insurgency both within Nigeria's borders and outside will definitely feel a lot of joy at the fact that at least one of the girls has been rescued and that will probably provide more impetus to calls for the Nigerian government to go ahead and rescue the remaining Boko Haram captives.

Ryan Cummings

Ryan Cummings says the rescue of Amina raises more questions than answers

On the one hand, I do believe that it is a significant achievement for the Nigerian government; they have committed on a number of occasions to secure the release of all the girls but it is quite a tentative process in securing their safety without putting their lives at risk. But at least we are seeing tangible developments in this regard, even though its just one hostage.

We've heard of behind the scenes negotiations between the government and the Boko Haram Islamists. Could the appearance of the young girl be one way to prove to the government that perhaps the girls are still alive?

A lot of the occurrences regarding her supposed rescue conform to earlier negotiations that we saw between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram prior to the Chibok kidnapping, the kidnapping obviously being not the first undertaken by Boko Haram which has targeted civilians in northeast Nigeria. The others occurred on much smaller scale; they also saw civilians seized and then a few weeks or months later, these individuals were found by members of the military who were conducting routine patrols in the areas. It was later found out that these individuals were possibly released as a result of hostage exchanges or some other form of agreement that had been brokered between the Boko Haram leadership and the Nigerian government of Goodluck Jonathan at the time. Now, while we can't definitively say that this was the case that resulted in the release of Amina from the sect., we cannot categorically say there hadn't been any form of agreement between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram to secure the release of this individual and potentially a number of the other Chibok hostages who obviously remain in captivity.

With all the modern technology, like satellite imaging, why is so difficult for the Nigerian government at least to ascertain what's in Sambisa forest, for example human movements ?

The Sambisa forest is massive; it is the size of some administrative states in the US. It is also extremely dense in terms of a forest which makes aerial surveillance nearly impossible. The other issue is that Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria destroyed so much of the telecommunications infrastructure in the area as a means of isolating communities. It's a really inaccessible area both from the air and the ground. There are also claims that Sambisa south has been booby trapped quite significantly. So any military initiative aimed at releasing the girls comes with a considerable threat, both to the army and to the girls themselves.

Ryan Cummings is a security consultant with Signal Risk

Interview: Isaac Mugabi

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