Nigeria’s military has located nearly 300 school girls abducted by Boko Haram six weeks ago but fears using force to try to free them could get them killed, the country’s chief of defence said.
Air Marshall Alex Barde told demonstrators supporting the much-criticised military on Monday that Nigerian troops could save the girls.
But he added: “We can’t go and kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back”.
Barde spoke to thousands of demonstrators who marched to Defence Ministry headquarters in Abuja, the capital. Many were brought in on buses, indicating it was an organised event.
Asked by reporters where they had located the girls, Barde refused to elaborate.
“We want our girls back. I can tell you we can do it. Our military can do it. But where they are held, can we go with force?” he asked the crowd.
People roared back: “No!”
“If we go with force what will happen?” he asked.
“They will die,” the demonstrators said.
Barde said the military’s efforts should not be criticised.
“Nobody should come and say the Nigerian military does not know what it is doing. We know what we are doing,” he said.
The United States, Britain, France and Israel have sent specialists to assist Nigeria in the search.
More than 300 teenagers were abducted from their school in the town of Chibok on April 15. Police say 53 escaped on their own and 276 remain captive.
A Boko Haram video has shown some of the girls reciting Quranic verses in Arabic and two of them explaining why they had converted from Christianity to Islam in captivity.
Most officials think any raid to rescue them would be fraught with danger and probably not worth the risk that the girls would be killed by their captors – a rebel group that has shown a high degree of ruthlessness in killing civilians.
Since the girls were captured, according to a Reuters count, at least 470 civilians have died violent deaths in various locations at the hands of Boko Haram, which says it is fighting to establish an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has branded the group an “al-Qaeda of West Africa”.
Meanwhile, on Monday gunmen killed four Nigerian soldiers in an ambush on a military patrol in central Plateau state, about 180km southeast of Jos, a local government official said, although it was not confirmed if this was conducted by Boko Haram.
On Sunday, suspected Boko Haram gunmen stormed a Christian village in northeastern Adamawa state, killing 20 residents, a local government spokesman said.
The attack in Waga by heavily armed fighters on trucks and motorcycles bore all the hallmarks of a Boko Haram attack and came after at least 24 people were killed in a similar strike on Kamuya village in neighbouring Borno.
Multiple raids in Borno last week, including two near the missing girls’ hometown of Chibok, left more than 80 people dead.
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(via Al Jazeera)