Twenty-one of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamic extremists more than two years ago have been freed in negotiations, Nigerian officials said Thursday.
Some 197 girls remain captive, though it is not known how many of them may have died.
The girls are the first to be released as a result of government action and are now in the custody of Nigeria’s Department of State Services, Nigeria’s secret intelligence agency.
Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said their release was negotiated between the government and Boko Haram in talks mediated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Swiss government.
Boko Haram has offered to free the girls in exchange for detained leaders of the group and the ICRC has attempted to negotiate those swaps in the past.
However, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said last month that negotiations ended last year when Boko Haram demanded a ransom of $5.2 billion for the girls’ freedom.
It is unclear if an exchange has taken place for the release of the girls.
The 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls sparked international outrage after the Nigerian government failed to quickly free the children.
Dozens of girls have escaped on their own, including Amina Ali Nkeki, who told her family that some of the kidnapped girls died of illness. She said others, like herself, have been married to fighters and are pregnant or already have babies.
The Bring Our Girls Back campaign has fought tirelessly to end the plight of the Boko Haram captives and have called the Nigerian government to take action.
“We are extremely delighted and grateful,” said the group in response to the recent news.
They said in a Facebook post that they are awaiting the names of the released girls.
Negotiations will continue for the release of other girls.