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Malala seeks release of Nigerian schoolgirls

Isaac Babatunde, AFP | Malala Yousafzai raises her arms as she poses with five escaped Chibok school girls.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who survived a Taliban assassination attempt in 2012, urged Nigeria's Boko Haram militants on Monday to release the 219 Nigerian schoolgirls they are still holding hostage, calling the girls her “sisters”.


Malala marked her 17th birthday with a visit to Nigeria, where she met with President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been criticised for inaction in the hunt for the missing girls.

Malala, who has become an international symbol for women’s rights in the face of hard-line Islam, said Jonathan had promised to meet with the abducted girls’ parents for the first time.

Jonathan has yet to meet with any of the parents, though some regularly make the dangerous drive from Chibok to join activists who hold daily rallies in Abuja.

“My birthday wish this year is ‘Bring Back Our Girls’, now and alive,” Malala said, using the social media slogan that has been picked up around the world to demand freedom for the girls, who were abducted from their school on April 15.

‘Misusing the name of Islam’

Malala appealed directly to the girls' captors as she held hands with some of those who escaped.

“Lay down your weapons. Release your sisters. Release my sisters. Release the daughters of this nation. Let them be free. They have committed no crime.

“You are misusing the name of Islam ... Islam is a religion of peace,” she said.

Malala also spoke against the custom of child brides in her home country, a tradition also common in Nigeria. Boko Haram has threatened to sell some of the girls if its fighters are not freed.

“Protect girls from cruelty,” she said in a speech, explaining that girls should not be forced to marry or to leave school to become brides “when they should be girls” or to give birth to children “when they themselves are children”.

Boko Haram continues onslaught

Boko Haram attacks continued over the weekend with witnesses blaming the group for the bombing of a major bridge on a northeast Nigerian highway that further limits access to its base camps in the Sambisa Forest, where it is believed to be holding some of the girls.

Gunmen destroyed most of the bridge on the road between Maiduguri and Biu on Saturday night, making it impossible for vehicles to cross, the spokesman for the Nigerian Vigilante Group, Abbas Gava, told AP.

On Monday, at least 38 people were killed following a raid by suspected Boko Haram gunmen on a village in the northeast of the country, followed by a military aerial bombardment, which villagers said targeted fleeing residents mistaken for insurgents.

The attack on the Christian farming village of Dille in Askira Uba district, 200 kilometres (125 miles) from regional capital, Maiduguri, late Sunday through Monday, saw the entire village, including three churches, burnt down, the villagers told AFP.

Dozens of gunmen in all terrain vehicles and on motorcycles stormed the village from the nearby Sambisa forest where the insurgents maintain camps, firing indiscriminately and throwing grenades and explosives into homes.

"We lost 38 people in Boko Haram attacks and bombardments by a military jet on innocent residents fleeing the village," resident Michael Umaru Jar said.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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