More than 60 women and girls abducted last month by suspected Boko Haram militants in northeast Nigeria have escaped their captors, sources said Sunday, but more than 200 schoolgirls are still being held by the Islamists.
Local vigilante Abbas Gava said he had "received an alert from my colleagues ... that about 63 of the abducted women and girls had made it back home" late Friday.
A high-level security source in the Borno state capital Maiduguri, who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, confirmed the escape.
Gava, a senior official of the local vigilantes in Borno who are working closely with security officials, told journalists the women escaped when their captors went out to fight.
"They took the bold step when their abductors moved out to carry out an operation," he said.
Clashes took place between the Islamists and the army late Friday after an attack by the insurgents in the town of Damboa, where 53 of them and six soldiers were killed, the army had said.
The rebels attacked barracks and a police station while most of the troops were out on patrol in surrounding villages.
Spokesmen for the armed forces or the government could not be reached Sunday for comment on the latest developments in the kidnapping cases.
- More than 200 still missing -
Activists of the Bring Back Our Girls movement meanwhile tried to march on the presidential palace in Abuja Sunday to pressure the government over the fate of more than 200 girls kidnapped in Chibok, in Borno, on April 14, but were asked by security forces to turn back.
"It's 83 days today that the girls have been abducted," activist Aisha Yesufu told the press.
"We have been coming out for 68 days and nobody has really listened to us," Yesufu told reporters after the march.
That is why the group "decided that we should just take the protest back to the president so that he will know that we are still out there after the 68 days that we have been coming out daily".
Of the 276 girls seized in April, 57 have escaped while 219 are still missing.
Villagers from the town where Boko Haram abducted the girls appealed to the United Nations on Friday to intervene because of the worsening violence in their region.
The community claimed militants were running amok in their area, seemingly with impunity.
A state of emergency imposed in Borno and neighbouring Yobe and Adamawa in May last year forced its fighters out of urban centres.
But that has come at the expense of protecting people in the countryside, where attacks have increased dramatically, almost on a daily basis, analysts say.
Amnesty International claimed in May that military commanders in Borno had advance warning of the Chibok abduction but could not muster enough troops to send.
The insurgents' kidnap of the schoolgirls in April provoked international outrage and drew unprecedented global attention to the Islamist uprising.
Security experts say the overstretched and under-resourced military is incapable of waging an effective counterinsurgency against the Boko Haram militants, who have killed thousands in their five-year campaign for an independent Islamic state in the north.AFP