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What’s motivating the Boko Haram cease-fire? – Part 2

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The Nigerian military has claimed it killed hundreds of Boko Haram fighters in recent weeks. And, today, neighboring Cameroon said its forces killed more than a hundred of the militants in fighting this week.

    And for more on the situation, we turn once again to J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council.

    We have heard versions of this before, right? Does this feel different, something that might hold?

  • J. PETER PHAM, Atlantic Council:

    Well, not only because I'm hopeful for the return of the girls and concerned about it, but also I think there are indications that things are different.

    Things have been moving very quickly behind the scenes in the region. About two weeks ago, the regional leaders met in Chad to discuss Boko Haram and collaboration among their governments. Earlier this week, they met again in Niamey, Niger, at the invitation of that country's president. President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria went to this meeting.

    And then we saw last weekend the release of a number of hostages taken by Boko Haram in Cameroon, including the wife of the vice prime minister and 10 Chinese workers kidnapped back in May. So, things have been moving very rapidly.

    And, today, in this announcement, what's different is also the announcement of very senior level of the Nigerian military, the chief of the defense staff, as well as people I have spoken to in the president's office are all saying the same thing, that there's a breakthrough and talks are coming.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    A breakthrough and talks are coming, but do we know much about the deal itself, what each side might be giving up?

  • J. PETER PHAM:

    Well, according to what I'm hearing from Nigeria, Boko Haram engaged in a cease — stopped fighting earlier today, Nigeria time. Subsequently, Nigerian military was given orders by its command to cease.

    And the Nigerian government is saying that since both cease-fires went into place, there has been no fighting. So there's at least a calm in the killing.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Specifically on the question of the kidnapped girls who galvanized the world's attention, any more detail on how that might play into this? We still don't know about their condition, about even their whereabouts.

  • J. PETER PHAM:

    One — I have been told that the girls, the release of the girls, which is a priority of the Nigerian government and of the international community, will be the leadoff in the talks that will take place next week in Chad hosted by that country's president.

    I presume that the girls, if you look at the situation militarily, operationally, have become a burden to their captors. Moving about 200 girls while you're fighting a war, even if you have been scoring some spectacular successes on the battlefield, is a burden. So Boko Haram would very much like to get rid of them and, in exchange, possibly demand the release and likely of some of their commanders who have been captured.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, just to fill on that, why — if I ask you why it's happening now of why it might happen now, what's the situation on the ground in terms of relative strength of — strength and weaknesses of Boko Haram and the government at this point?

  • J. PETER PHAM:

    Well, on Boko Haram's side, in the last several weeks and months, Boko Haram has successfully carved out a large territory not only in Borno state, but neighboring Yobe and Adamawa states, virtually encircling the capital of Borno, Maiduguri, city of over a million people, not it cutting off entirely, but making life rather miserable for the people there, gaining territorial hold, and even reportedly, although it has to be confirmed, shooting down a Nigerian air force fighter jet at the beginning of September.

    But it's probably reached the limit of what it can do. On the government's side, they have suffered some reverses not only on battlefield, but also in troop desertions, loss of equipment. And they need some time to — to regroup. So both sides I think perhaps are a little fatigued.

    And the government really does, I think, need a break from the fighting and from this distraction in the north, which is, in a way, a distraction from the overall challenges Nigeria faces.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, and very briefly on that, we heard the skepticism in that piece. The government still faces the skepticism, criticism from the outside over — over its actions and inactions on this.

  • J. PETER PHAM:

    Yes.

    And I think this is where I think the tires are going to meet the road. The government has clearly said the talks are going to happen. We are given the expectation that the release of the girls is imminent and that some broader, more holistic solution will be discussed.

    And they have given a timetable. So we will see in a week's time whether these talks begin to take place and we have movement or if this was yet another false alarm.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    All right, Peter Pham, thank you so much.

  • J. PETER PHAM:

    Thank you.

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