Nigeria kidnap exchange 'ruled out'

Banbury Cake: People light candles during a vigil in Abuja to mark one month after the Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped (AP) People light candles during a vigil in Abuja to mark one month after the Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped (AP)

The Nigerian government is ruling out an exchange of more than 200 abducted schoolgirls for detained Islamic militants, according to a British Foreign Office minister.

Mark Simmonds said Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has "made it very clear that there will be no negotiation with Boko Haram that involves a swap of abducted schoolgirls for prisoners".

But Mr Simmonds, who is visiting Nigeria for talks, said after a meeting with President Jonathan that Nigeria's government will talk to the militants on reconciliation.

"The point that also was made very clear to me is that the president was keen to continue and facilitate ongoing dialogue to find a structure and architecture of delivering lasting solution to the conflict and the cause of conflict in northern Nigeria," he said.

Reuben Abati, a spokesman for the Nigerian presidency, said that the president met Mr Simmonds at the presidential palace in Abuja to discuss the missing girls and Britain's role in trying to rescue them.

He said Mr Simmonds "reassured President Jonathan of Britain's commitment to giving Nigeria all required assistance to find and safely rescue the abducted girls".

British surveillance aircraft and a military team were offered to the Nigerian government yesterday to assist in the search for the schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram militants.

David Cameron said the kidnapping of the girls from their school was an act of ''pure evil'' as he updated MPs on the support being offered to the Nigerian authorities.

The Prime Minister told the Commons: ''Today I can announce we have offered Nigeria further assistance in terms of surveillance aircraft, a military team to embed with the Nigerian army in their HQ and a team to work with US experts to analyse information on the girls' location.''

He added: ''This was an act of pure evil, the world is coming together not just to condemn it but to do everything we can to help the Nigerians find these young girls.''

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the aircraft offered to the Nigerian authorities to assist in the search is a Sentinel spy plane, which has a crew of five.

The US has already provided surveillance assistance, and Mr Cameron's offer of help would include an intelligence team in Abuja to help analyse information about the girls' location.

The proposed military team embedded within the army HQ would act as a liaison between the intelligence cell and Nigerian officers, the MoD said.

Meanwhile, Labour have hit out at ''delays'' in the Government's response to the abduction of the schoolgirls.

Shadow Foreign Office minister Lord Bach claimed there was a three-week gap between the kidnapping and Mr Cameron phoning Mr Jonathan.

Lord Bach said at question time in the House of Lords: ''Of course we warmly welcome and support the action the Government have taken in recent days, but there does seem to have been a gap of three weeks or more between the abduction and the Prime Minister's phonecall to President Jonathan on 7 May when no action seems to have occurred.''

He asked Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi: ''Why was there that delay when speed of action was surely vital?''

And he added: ''Many parliamentarians on all side find it extraordinary that in the month that has elapsed since this barbaric abduction, the Government has neither made an oral statement or instigated a debate in either House.''

Lady Warsi told him: ''I think in the midst of this horrific situation the Government and the country can be rightly proud that we were the first government to offer assistance within hours of this incident.''

She said that within two days Foreign Secretary William Hague had spoken to his counterpart in Nigeria and the UK was the first, along with the United States, to send a team to the country.

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