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Kidnapped schoolgirls will be home soon, Nigerian president tells Malala

ABUJA: Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan promised on Monday that more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist militants would soon return home, Malala Yousafzai said after meeting him.

Malala was visiting Nigeria to support an international campaign for the release of the students abducted in mid-April by the insurgent group Boko Haram.

“The president promised me…that the abducted girls will return to their homes soon,” Malala, who has called the 219 missing students her “sisters”, told a news conference after a 45-minute meeting with Mr Jonathan at the presidential villa.

Malala, who turned 17 on Saturday, also appealed directly to Boko Haram to stop its attacks and release the schoolgirls, saying Islam is a religion of peace that allows education for girls as well as boys.

“Release your sisters. Release my sisters and release the daughters of this nation. Let them be free,” she said at an event in Abuja to mark the UN-declared ‘Malala Day’, established in her name to promote the education of girls and women.

At the weekend, Malala met parents of the schoolgirls snatched on April 14 from the northeastern village of Chibok by Boko Haram militants fighting to establish an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria.

The Nigerian girls’ plight triggered an international #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign supported by Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie With the girls still missing three months after their kidnap, Mr Jonathan faces criticism at home and abroad over the deteriorating security situation in Africa’s leading oil producer and biggest economy.

Suspected Boko Haram fighters on Monday attacked a village on market day in northeast Nigeria not far from the Cameroon border, killing at least five local people and burning homes and shops, a resident and a security source said.

Malala told reporters she would hold the Nigerian leader to his pledge that the girls would be home soon. “I will from now be counting days and will be looking. I can’t stop this campaign until I see these girls return back to their families and continue their education.”

She said that Mr Jonathan had also promised that once the missing girls were rescued, they would be given scholarships to go to school in any part of Nigeria.

Pressed by journalists, Malala said Mr Jonathan had described the girls’ situation as “complicated” and that their lives could be put at risk by a military rescue attempt.

“But the president said these girls are his daughters and he is pained by their sufferings and that he has his own daughters and he can feel what they are feeling,” she said.

The Nigerian presidency said Mr Jonathan assured Malala that his government “was very actively pursuing all feasible options to achieve the safe return of the abducted girls”.

“The great challenge in rescuing the Chibok girls is the need to ensure that they are rescued alive,” Mr Jonathan said, according to the statement.—Reuters