July 10, 2015 / 4:23 PM / 2 years ago

Talks with Boko Haram reopened, government not involved: activist

A wall painted by Boko Haram is pictured in Damasak March 24, 2015.Joe Penney

ABUJA (Reuters) - Fresh negotiations have started with Boko Haram militants for the release of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped last year but the Nigerian government is not currently involved in the talks, a human rights activist said on Friday.

Fred Eno, who was involved in negotiations for the release of the Chibok girls last year but not the current talks, said others had resumed contact with the Islamist group independently of the government. He did not say who they were.

"Preliminary contacts were made with the insurgents by those ... involved in the previous negotiations, with a view to reviving the deal we struck last time," Eno said. "They (Boko Haram) have responded in the affirmative and so various channels are being explored."

He did not say when the approach had been made to Boko Haram or give details of the previous deal, but said the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, elected earlier this year on pledges to quash the insurgency, was not involved.

"There are no formal negotiations going on now between the current government and the insurgents for the release of the girls as such," Eno said.

A spokesman for the presidency said it had no knowledge of the talks and was not trying to reach out to Boko Haram although it has previously said it was not averse to negotiation.

Boko Haram gained global notoriety in 2014 after it kidnapped the schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno state, the heartland of its campaign to carve out an Islamic state in Nigeria's northeast.

Sustained lobbying by campaign group Bring Back Our Girls has made the mass abduction a symbol of the devastation wrought by the insurgency, which has seen thousands of other women and children taken.

Efforts to end the violence and to secure the girls' release have repeatedly failed, including a 2014 deal fostered by Chad.

"When we negotiated with the insurgents we made it clear then that the release of the Chibok girls was only the beginning of a process that would lead to a complete end of hostilities," Eno added, referring to last year's agreement.

Buhari, who said at his inauguration in May that victory could not be claimed until the Chibok girls were freed, is building up a base in Chad's capital N'Djamena out of which regional forces can deploy and attack the militants.

He met with the Bring Back Our Girls campaigners this week.

After taking swathes of territory last year, Boko Haram militants were pushed back into their Sambisa forest stronghold by Nigerian and regional forces but have since reverted to guerrilla tactics, hitting towns outside Borno in recent weeks.

Additional reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Julia Payne; Editing by Catherine Evans

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