The Nigerian government announced that it has secured the release of 82 school girls abducted by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram.
Presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu said in a statement Sunday that the girls were exchanged for some Boko Haram “suspects” held by the government, according to local newspaper Premium Times.
It is unclear how many Boko Haram prisoners were released in exchange for the girls.
The girls were released on Saturday, after successful negotiations occurred among the Swiss government, the Red Cross Society, and a few private individuals trusted by both sides.
The released group of girls are part of the 276 girls — often referred to as the “Chibok girls” — who were abducted from their school as they took exams in the village of Chibok, in northeastern Nigeria, in April 2014.
After negotiating their freedom, the girls were brought by a convoy of Red Cross vehicles from a remote area to a military base in Banki near the Nigerian border with Cameroon. They then boarded military helicopters and were flown to the capital, Abuja, to meet with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the statehouse.
Receiving the girls, President Buhari said he was deeply grateful to security agencies, the military, the government of Switzerland, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and local and international NGOs for the role they played in the operation.
“On behalf of all Nigerians, I will like to share my joy with you, your parents, your relatives, friends, and government of Borno State on regaining your freedom,” Mr. Buhari said.
“The federal government will like to commend the security agencies, the Red Cross, local authorities, local and foreign NGOs, and all those who contributed in one way or another to secure the release of our Chibok Girls.
“Let me reassure Nigerians, especially relatives and friends of the remaining girls, that the federal government will spare no effort to see that they and all other Nigerians who have been abducted safely regain their freedom.”
Nigerian authorities have repeatedly stated that they would settle for negotiations to secure the release of the girls instead of a military strike, which carries the likelihood of high collateral damage that puts the lives of the girls at risk.
Saturday’s release of the 82 girls brings the number of girls released by Boko Haram to 103.
Last October, Nigerian authorities secured the release of 21 girls, after negotiations with Boko Haram were brokered by the Red Cross and the government of Switzerland.
Out of the original 274 girls seized by the Boko Haram militants in April 2014, about 113 girls remain in captivity and their fate is unknown.