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May 2, 2015 2:51 PM

Nigeria: 1st group of released females brought to safety

The Associated Press

YOLA, Nigeria (AP) The first group of nearly 300 Nigerian girls and women released from Boko Haram were brought by the military to the safety of a refugee camp in the country's northeast Saturday evening.

More than 677 females have been released this week, as the Nigerian military continues its campaign to push the Islamic extremists out their last remaining strongholds in the Sambisa Forest.

As darkness fell in this dusty part of Yola, a convoy of armed vehicles brought the women and young children crammed into the open backs of trucks to a school that has been turned into a refugee camp for people displaced by Boko Haram.

The women had been traveling for three days from the forest where the military says it rescued them from captivity by the extremists. Two soldiers were injured when the convoy hit a land mine, said an officer who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Looking bewildered, some even in shock, the freed women and children lined up for tea and a stew of baobab leaves. Many of the babies had just rags for clothes. The military will turn the care of the women and children over to the National Emergency Management Agency.

Lami Musa, 27, was holding her four-day old baby. She said she was abducted by Boko Haram five months ago from Lassa village. "The father of this child was killed by Boko Haram," said Musa. "I don't know where my three other children are."

Musa was trying to breastfeed her newborn but she said "there is no milk."

Musa's bare feet were very swollen and she was helped to a clinic for treatment.

An eight-year-old girl had a bullet wound in her left buttock and was also taken to the clinic.

Many of those arriving will be treated for malaria and malnutrition, said Dr Mohammed Auwal.

It is still not known if any of the females are the schoolgirls kidnapped from a boarding school in Chibok town a year ago a mass kidnapping that outraged much of the world.

The military said it has freed the women and children as part of the campaign to clear Boko Haram from Sambisa Forest.

"The assault on the forest is continuing from various fronts and efforts are concentrated on rescuing hostages of civilians and destroying all terrorist camps and facilities in the forest," said Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade.

In recent weeks the military and troops from neighboring countries have taken back control of towns in northeastern Nigeria that had been held by Boko Haram and where the extremists had declared an Islamic caliphate.

Sambisa Forest is reported to be the Islamic militants' last holdout.

Some women shot at their rescuers and were killed, as Boko Haram used them as an armed human shield for its main fighting force.

Soldiers were shocked when women opened fire on troops who had come to rescue them in the village of Nbita last week, The Associated Press was told by a military intelligence officer and a soldier who were at the scene. The women killed seven soldiers and soldiers fighting back killed 12 of the women and wounded several others, they said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Most of the females who have been released are traumatized, said army spokesman Col. Sani Usman. Nigeria's military says it has flown in medical and intelligence teams to screen the rescued girls and women and find out their identities.

Some identify with the insurgents' extremist ideology after months of captivity and forced marriages, a counselor who has helped rehabilitate other women held captive by Boko Haram told the AP. It remains unclear if some of the women had willingly joined Boko Haram, or are family members of fighters.

Some of the freed women and girls are pregnant, Muhammad Gavi, a spokesman for a self-defense group that fights Boko Haram, said citing information from group members who have seen the females.

The Nigerian military Friday released photos of about 20 subdued-looking children and women they said the pictures were taken between Tuesday and Thursday in the Sambisa Forest.


Associated Press writer Ibrahim Abdulazis contributed to this report from Yola.


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