ABUJA: Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said on Friday he believed 200 schoolgirls abducted by Islamist militants last month in an attack that has stirred global outrage are still in his country and have not been moved to neighbouring Cameroon.
Jonathan`s government has been criticized for its slow response to the hostage crisis since the abductions by Boko Haram militants and it is the first time he has said where he thinks the girls are being held.
British experts arrived in Nigeria on Friday to advise the government on the search.
"There are stories that they have moved them outside of the country. But if they move that number of girls to Cameroon, people will see, so I believe they are still in Nigeria," Jonathan told journalists.
"We are also working with the experts that will use remote sensors to see them (insurgents) wherever they are. So that basically says they are within the Sambisa area," Jonathan said, referring to a forest that is a known Boko Haram hideout near the school from where the girls were abducted. He was speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Nigerian capital. The event was designed to showcase investment opportunities in what is Africa`s biggest economy but has been overshadowed by the kidnapping and a broader threat of militant attacks.
Boko Haram`s struggle for an Islamic state has killed thousands since it erupted in mid-2009 and has destabilized swathes of the northeast of Africa`s top oil producer, as well as neighbours Cameroon and Niger.
Militants stormed a secondary school in the village of Chibok, near the Cameroon border, on April 14, and kidnapped the girls, who were taking exams at the time. Fifty have since escaped, but more than 200 remain with the insurgents.
Until now, Jonathan had said he did not know where the girls were and the military is struggling to maintain security in the turbulent northeast as Boko Haram grows bolder.
"A team of UK experts who will advise and support the Nigerian authorities in its response to the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls touched down in Abuja this morning," a statement from the British Foreign Office said. They included diplomats, aid workers and Ministry of Defence officials.
"The team will be working closely with U.S. counterparts and others to coordinate efforts," as well as looking at longer term solutions to the crisis, the statement said.
In an address to the Forum on Thursday, Jonathan thanked countries including the United States, Britain, France and China for their support in trying to rescue the girls. All have offered assistance. The revolt has displaced more than 250,000 people in Nigeria and 60,000 have fled the country, U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesman Adrian Edwards said in Geneva on Friday. UNHCR is "alarmed at the recent wave of attacks on civilians", he said.
A militant attack on the market town of Gamburu early on Monday killed at least 125 people, police said.
"The brutality and frequency of these attacks is unprecedented. The past two months have seen multiple kidnappings and deaths, creating population displacement both inside Nigeria and into neighbouring countries," Edwards said.