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Nigerian President Jonathan promises Activist Malala Yousafzai Chibok girls will return "soon"
Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai has said Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan promised Monday, that more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram would "soon" return home.
ABUJA, Nigeria – Nigeria's president promised Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai that he would meet with the parents of some of the 219 schoolgirls held by Islamic extremists for three months, she said Monday.
Malala is celebrating her 17th birthday in Nigeria in an effort to work for the release of the girls from Boko Haram.
"My birthday wish this year is `Bring Back Our Girls' now and alive," she said, using the social media slogan that has been picked up around the world to demand freedom for the girls kidnapped from a school in the remote northeast Nigerian town of Chibok before dawn on April 15.
Boko Haram attacks continued over the weekend with witnesses blaming them for the bombing of a major bridge on a northeast Nigerian highway that further limits access to its base camps in the Sambisa Forest, where some of the kidnapped girls are believed to be held captive.
Gunmen destroyed most of the bridge on the road between Maiduguri and Biu on Saturday night, making it impossible for vehicles to cross, the spokesman for the Nigerian Vigilante Group, Abbas Gava,
Malala at the weekend met parents of the schoolgirls snatched from the northeastern village of Chibok by Boko Haram fighters.
The Nigerian girls' plight triggered an international #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign supported by Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie. This drew global attention to the war in Nigeria's northeast and the growing security risk that Boko Haram poses to Nigeria, Africa's leading energy producer.
But, with the girls still missing three months after their April 14 kidnap, Jonathan faces criticism at home and abroad over the deteriorating security situation.
"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 Jonathan at the presidential villa.
She did not say whether the Nigerian leader had given her any fresh details of the military search operation for the girls to support his assurance. Nigeria is receiving intelligence and surveillance assistance from the United States, Britain, France and other foreign allies but has so far shown little progress in getting the Chibok girls back.
Malala said she would hold the Nigerian leader to his pledge. "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.
She added that 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 on what the president had told her, Malala said Jonathan 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 ... He has several options but ... he will choose the best to ensure the girls are released safely," she said.
Pakistani Taliban militants shot Malala for her passionate advocacy of women's right to education. She survived after being airlifted to Britain for treatment, and has since become a symbol of defiance against the militants operating in the tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
She has won the European Union's prestigious human rights award and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
Boko Haram, inspired by the Taliban, say they are fighting to establish an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria. The group, whose name means "Western education is sinful", has killed thousands and abducted hundreds since launching an uprising in 2009.