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Freed Chibok schoolgirls celebrate Christmas at home
21 Nigerian Chibok girls released by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram in October have been reunited with their families for Christmas. This comes as Nigeria claims to have ‘crushed’ the final insurgent stronghold.
The girls were freed in October following a deal brokered by the International Red Cross and Swiss government officials with Boko Haram.
After three months in a secret location, for debriefing by the Nigerian government, yesterday they returned home for the first time since their kidnap from their Chibok school in Borno State in April 2014.
One of the girls, 22-year-old Asabe Goni, told Reuters news agency of the "miracle" of being at home again.
Schoolgirl lobby blasts government silence
Nigeria's #BringBackOurGirls campaign has reacted demanding an immediate update on negotiation efforts to rescue the rest of the abducted schoolgirls.
In a statement it condemned the government’s silence on the issue and failure to inform anxious families and the public as "ominous".
“It is now 975 days since our Chibok Girls were abducted from their school," it said. "Only 23 out of 219 or 11% of them are back. Where are our remaining 196 or 89% #ChibokGirls that are still missing?"
Militants ousted from forest stronghold
This follows Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s claims on Saturday that the military has driven out Boko Haram from their last bastion in the Sambisa forest in northeastern Borno state.
A months-long campaign has led to the "final crushing of Boko Haram terrorists in their last enclave in Sambisa Forest", President Buhari said in a statement.
"The terrorists are on the run, and no longer have a place to hide. I urge you to maintain the tempo by pursuing them and bringing them to justice," he said.
He admitted that more needed to be done to locate and free more of the 200 kidnapped schoolgirls.
The announcement comes after a barrage of land and air assaults in Borno state, which is at the heart of the Islamist group’s insurgency.
Boko Haram seeks to create a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria.
Buhari's government has struggled to stop attacks on soft targets such as markets, including the use of women and child suicide bombers.
Accuracy of reports?
The army's claim of recapturing Sambisa Forest has brought a rare glimmer of hope for millions of people caught up in the devastating conflict.
At least 20,000 people have been killed and 2.6 million displaced since the fighting broke out in 2009 sparking a humanitarian crisis.
But Buhari is seen to be keen to announce any positive news, with his government coming under fire for its handling of the recession-hit economy.
The government in Abuja, and the military, have previously claimed victories against the Islamic State group affiliate. But access to the epicentre of the conflict in Borno state is almost impossible, making independent corroboration of official statements near impossible.
A year ago Buhari said the militants had been "technically" defeated, yet they continued to wreak havoc throughout 2016.
Nigerian troops have reportedly rescued 1,880 civilians from their northeastern enclave over the past week and arrested hundreds of rebels.
Africa's ‘largest crisis'
The humanitarian fallout from the conflict is huge.
The United Nations say a billion dollars is needed to help victims of Boko Haram, calling the conflict "the largest crisis in Africa."
It estimates that 14 million people will need outside help in 2017, particularly in Borno state, where villagers under siege have typically been forced to abandon their crops.
"A projected 5.1 million people will face serious food shortages as the conflict and risk of unexploded improvised devices prevented farmers planting for a third year in a row, causing a major food crisis," the UN said in early December.