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US lawmakers, in Nigeria, urge fund for Boko Haram victims

AFP , Sunday 15 Jun 2014
US congressman Louie Gohmert speaks with three girls, who escaped after they were abducted in the remote village of Chibok, while they are covered in white sheets at a news conference in Lagos June 5, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

Four visiting US lawmakers called during a visit to Nigeria on Sunday for a special fund for victims of the Boko Haram insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and seen the abduction of dozens of schoolgirls.

"Today we call upon the government of Nigeria to establish a national victim fund for all the victims who are suffering at the hands of Boko Haram," delegation co-chair Sheila Jackson Lee told reporters in the capital Abuja.

The delegation was in Nigeria as part of global efforts to drum up support for the rescue of the teenage girls kidnapped on April 14 from their school in the northeastern town of Chibok.

While 57 of the girls escaped, 219 remain in the hands of the Islamists, prompting global outrage and street protests to press for their rescue.

Lee said the special fund should provide help "for the girls who are still missing, for the girls who escaped, for their families, for the father who came and spoke to us about his missing daughter," adding that "they need compensation."

"It is time for economic empowerment and jobs, to ... give the young people of the north and all around Nigeria the opportunity for jobs and education," she said.

Delegation leader Steve Stockman said the US Congress realised that "the best thing that could happen is if we have a fund set up for those that lost their lives and for the families that remain here on this earth."

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson said their mission in the country was to put pressure on the international community, including the US and Nigerian governments, to help bring back the girls, who range in age from 16 to 18.

"Everyone around us has a responsibility to find these young girls. And we cannot afford to give up until we find all (the) young women who were kidnapped from a school which is supposed to be a safe place," she said.

Two of the girls who escaped from their captors attended the news conference but were not allowed to speak.

The United States, Britain, France and Israel are helping Nigeria in the search for the girls still held by the extremists, who have been active for some five years.

Analysts suspect that the 219 missing girls are likely to have been split into smaller groups and possibly taken outside Nigeria.

With 80 US military personnel specialising in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance deployed in neighbouring Chad, the United States is the biggest foreign participant in the effort against Boko Haram.

Washington has also sent surveillance drones, spy planes and about 30 civilian and military specialists to support Nigeria's security forces.

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