Some of the schoolgirls abducted by suspected militant Islamists in northern Nigeria are believed to have been taken to neighbouring states, according to a local leader in Borno state.
Mr Pogo Bitrus, a leader of a Chibok elders group, said there had been “sightings” of gunmen crossing with the girls into Cameroon and Chad.
Some of the girls had been forced to marry the militants, he added. Mr Bitrus said 230 girls were missing since militants attacked the school in Chibok, Borno state, two weeks ago.
The terror group Boko Haram has been blamed for the night-time raid on the school hostel in Chibok town. Mr Bitrus, a Chibok community leader, said 43 of the girls had “regained their freedom” after escaping, while 230 were still in captivity.
The students were about to sit their final year exam and so are mostly aged between 16 and 18.
“Some of them have been taken across Lake Chad and some have been ferried across the border into parts of Cameroon.” Mr Bitrus said there were also reports that the insurgents had married some of the girls. “We learned that one of the ‘grooms’ brought his ‘wife’ to a neighbouring town in Cameroon and kept her there. “I’m crying now as community leader to alert the world to what’s happening so that some pressure would be brought to bare on government to act.” “It’s a medieval kind of slavery,” he added.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau first threatened to treat captured women and girls as slaves in a video released in May 2013.
It fuelled concern at the time that the group is adhering to the ancient Islamic belief that women captured during war are slaves with whom their “masters” can have sex, correspondents say.
Mr Bitrus said everyone in the community felt as though their own daughters had been abducted. Men were “braving it out”, but women were “crying and wailing”, he said.
“Whether it is my niece or whoever it doesn’t matter. We are all one people,” “That’s why I’m crying now as community leader to alert the world to what’s happening so that some pressure would be brought to bare on government to act and ensure the release of these girls.”
President Goodluck Jonathan has faced scathing criticism over the attacks and the pressure has mounted since the Chibok kidnappings. Parents, who said they had little confidence in the military search effort, have scoured the bush lands of the remote region, pooling money to buy fuel for motorcycles and cars to conduct their own rescue effort.
Bitrus said the free movement of the kidnappers in huge convoys with their captives for two weeks without being traced by the military which claims to be working diligently to free the girls is unbelievable,” he said.
The military deployed thousands of additional troops to the northeast last year as part of an offensive aimed at crushing Boko Haram, but security experts say Nigeria lacks the troops needed to fully cover the region.
There has been no independent confirmation of the girls being trafficked across borders and some of those who escaped said the hostages were taken to Borno’s Sambisa Forest area, where Boko Haram has well-fortified camps.
The military on Friday said it had killed 40 insurgents near Sambisa Forest in an operation aimed at finding the kidnappers