LAGOS - Nigeria's former president Olusegun Obasanjo has voiced fears that not all of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram would ever return.
"It's inconceivable to get all of them back," he said in an interview with the Premium Times online news site published Thursday.
"If you get all of them back, I will consider it a near-miracle," he was quoted as saying.
Boko Haram militants abducted 276 girls from their school in the remote town of Chibok, in northeastern Borno state, on April 14.
Nearly two months on, there is little sign of the girls being freed or rescued, despite Nigeria's military saying that they knew where the teenagers were being held and an international rescue effort.
Obasanjo, who last month held exploratory talks to open channels of communication with the Islamists through intermediaries, echoed widely held doubts that all of the girls were still together.
Analysts suspect that the 219 girls still missing are likely to have been split into smaller groups and possibly taken outside Nigeria.
The mass abduction triggered global condemnation and criticism about Nigeria's government and military initial response, which was described as slow and lacklustre.
In a recent televised interview, Obasanjo -- president from 1999 to 2007 after the country returned to civilian rule -- had slammed the Nigerian authorities' lethargy in rescuing the girls.
US drones and surveillance aircraft have been involved in the hunt but with Nigeria fearful that an armed response would put the girls' lives in danger, talk has turned to negotiations.
Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau has indicated that he may be prepared to release the girls in exchange for militant fighters held in the country's jails.
Nigeria's government initially rejected the proposal out of hand but there are indications that it may be prepared to open dialogue.
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Ex-president doubtful over kidnapped girls'' return