Nigeria talks with Boko Haram but no sign of girls' release

MAIDUGURI (Reuters) - Nearly a week after Nigeria announced a ceasefire deal with Boko Haram, which it said would include the release of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist group, there is still no sign of the girls being freed.

Talks took place this week between the government and the Islamist militant group in the Chadian capital, but they are shrouded in secrecy.

A series of attacks blamed on Boko Haram fighters since the announcement, meanwhile, has raised doubts over government claims of a truce.

Nigeria's precipitous announcement, seemingly for domestic political reasons ahead of elections next February, could jeopardise the prospects of an accord to free the girls and bring peace to the northeast.

"I sense Nigeria rushed to announce the deal with electoral-political calculations in mind," said Mr Mark Schroeder, vice president of Africa Analysis at the Stratfor consultancy. "Getting a victory with the schoolgirls and a short-term truce with Boko Haram could be positive for President Goodluck Jonathan's campaign," he said.

The announcement of the truce came a day before a rally of the president's supporters in Abuja, although he has yet to announce his candidacy.

Some residents of Nigeria's northeast, which has born the brunt of the insurgency, also saw political calculations behind the announcement and doubted the talks in N'Djamena would lead to a lasting peace.

"The government just wants to (win) 2015 elections at all costs," said Mr Joel Peter, who runs a barber's shop in Maiduguri, the city at the heart of the Boko Haram insurgency. "Only the government is ready for ceasefire, not Boko Haram. Government is tired of insurgency and it hasn't been winning the war ... but Boko Haram aren't tired," he said.

The fact that the announced ceasefire has been broken does not mean that there was no deal in the works, said a Chadian diplomat who requested anonymity said, because it may take time to get the message down Boko Haram's fragmented chain of command.

It is still not clear which faction of this decentralised insurgent movement was involved in the talks, nor whether it is the one holding the girls, but the Chadian diplomat said the Nigerian government has accepted it as a representing Boko Haram.

Boko Haram, which only communicates messages via jihadist videos of its purported leader Abubakar Shekau, has not yet commented on the alleged truce.

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