ABUJA – Nigeria must avoid harming the Chibok girls in its reported bombardment of a forest hideout used by the Boko Haram militants who seized them, parents and activists said on Thursday.
More than 200 schoolgirls were abducted from Chibok in 2014, and 106 have been found or freed. One more girl was found last month and 100 are still believed to be in captivity.
Some girls were reported to be killed or injured in previous attacks on the militants’ stronghold and the resumption of bombing by Nigeria’s military has raised fears of new injuries.
In recent statements covered widely by local media, the Nigerian military has announced an ongoing “clearance operation” of the Sambisa forest, in which some militants were killed.
The operation could not be verified with the military but the well-flagged bombardment has led parents of the abducted girls to worry their daughters may also suffer.
“We heard that the military has surrounded Boko Haram and we are afraid that they will kill our daughters,” said Yana Galang, women’s leader of the parents’ group.
Her daughter, Rifkatu, is still missing.
“All the parents are talking about it. They heard it from the news,” Galang said in a phone call with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Some of the released girls have stated in interviews that more than a dozen of their classmates died or were severely wounded during previous Nigerian airstrikes.
“In 2014, when we founded the BBOG (Bring Back Our Girls) movement, I raised the concern that when the military goes in to rescue our girls, it must ensure that all our girls are brought back alive,” said Aisha Oyebode, co-convener of the BBOG campaign group.
“Our military must be reminded of the fundamental responsibility even in conflict, to the safety and protection of all our civilians that are behind conflict lines, which include 112 Chibok girls that still remain in captivity,” added Oyebode of the Murtala Mohammed Foundation, which supports parents of the abducted girls.
The army did not respond to a request for comment.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari had previously said Boko Haram was almost defeated but recent attacks show the group’s continued ability to stage hit-and-run raids, prompting a renewed government push.
In December, his government approved the release of $1 billion from a state oil fund to help with the fight.