- (Photo: Screen grab via YouTube/AFP News Agency)
The Nigerian army has reportedly located where the 270 or so schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamic militants Boko Haram are being held, but are afraid of attacking because it might endanger their lives.
Chief of Defence Staff Air Marshal Alex Badeh said on Monday that "the good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are," BBC News reported, but refused to give out their location.
"But where they are held, can we go there with force? We can't kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back," he added.
The girls were taken from an all-girls school in Chibok on April 14 by terrorist group Boko Haram, which has waged war on the Nigerian government for over five years now, often targeting Christian churches and communities in its mission to establish Islamic rule.
The international community has reacted with outrage at the kidnappings, with the U.S. And U.K. sending military teams into Nigeria to search for the girls.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has said that the group will sell the girls as brides for the militants, and has demanded an exchange for prisoners held by the government.
"It is now four years or five years that you arrested our brethren and they are still in your prison. You are doing many things to them and now you are talking about these girls? We will never release them until after you release our brethren," Shekau said in a video earlier this month. Nigerian officials have refused such a deal, however.
"This government cannot negotiate with criminals and ... will not exchange people for criminals. A criminal will be treated like a criminal," Senate President David Mark declared.
Badeh's remarks on Monday were aimed at demonstrators marching in Abuja in support of the army's fight against the terrorists.
"Nobody should come and say the Nigerian military does not know what it's doing. We know what we are doing," he stressed.
"The president is solidly behind us. The president has empowered us to do the work."
Last week, Nigeria's teachers staged a nationwide strike in protest of the kidnappings, demanding that schools receive better protection from the government.
"All schools nationwide shall be closed as the day will be our day of protest against the abduction of the Chibok female students and the heartless murder of the 173 teachers," National Union of Teachers President Micheal Alogba Olukoya said.
Reuters noted that since the abductions, more than 470 people have been killed across Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram, which continues raiding villages and bombing targets.