Scores of Nigerian schoolgirls who were among more than 200 kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 have been released, multiple sources told AFP on Saturday, with unconfirmed reports that at least 80 have been freed.
"I can confirm they have been released," said a senior government minister, who asked not to be identified, adding that an official statement would be released later.
A military and a civilian militia source in Banki, near the border with Cameroon, said "at least 80" girls were brought to the town late afternoon on Saturday.
"The girls are now lodged in the military barracks and will be flown to (the Borno state capital) Maiduguri tomorrow (Sunday)," said the military source.
The civilian militia member gave an identical account.
Enoch Mark, a Christian pastor whose two daughters were among those kidnapped, said he was told of the release by the Bring Back Our Girls pressure group and an official in Maiduguri.
He added: "This is good news to us. We have been waiting for this day. We hope the remaining girls will soon be released."
Bring Back Our Girls said it was awaiting an official statement but added: "Our hopes and expectations are high as we look forward to this news being true and confirmed."
Boko Haram fighters stormed the Government Girls Secondary School in the remote town of Chibok on the evening of April 14, 2014 and kidnapped 276 girls.
Fifty-seven managed to escape in the hours that followed but the remaining 219 were held by the group.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claimed in a video message that they had converted to Islam.
The audacious kidnapping brought the insurgency to world attention, triggering global outrage that galvanised support from the former US first lady Michelle Obama and Hollywood stars.
Twenty-one girls were released in October last year after negotiations between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Swiss government.
Three others were also found.
At the time of the release of the 21, President Muhammadu Buhari's spokesman Garba Shehu said the government was hoping to secure the release of 83 others being held by a different Boko Haram faction.
Last month he said in a radio interview that there were ongoing negotiations involving "some foreign entities" to release the 195 girls believed still held.
He told BBC Hausa the ICRC and Swiss government "have not withdrawn their support in the negotiations".
Other countries were also involved, he added, without elaborating.
© 2017 AFP