The Nigerian military has said that although it knows the location of more than 200 abducted schoolgirls, trying to rescue them by force could get them killed. The next step in the Boko Haram hostage drama is unclear.
Nigeria's Air Marshal Alex Badeh told demonstrators in Abuja that the military had located the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram last month. Yet Badeh said that using force to rescue them would be unwise.
"Nobody should say the Nigerian military does not know what it is doing; we can't kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back," he said.
The military and government's handling of the mass kidnapping has come under wide scrutiny. Thousands of demonstrators marched to the Defense Ministry headquarters in Abuja on Monday, with Badeh addressing the crowd.
Military top brass spoke to the demonstrators in Abuja
Badeh told reporters that he could not comment on the girls location, but said soldiers were working to get the hostages back.
"The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you," Badeh said. "We cannot come and tell you the military secret, just leave us alone, we are working to get the girls back."
The schoolgirls were snatched from the remote north-eastern village of Chibok in April by fighters from Boko Haram, a group fighting for an Islamist state in parts of Nigeria. Their situation prompted international outcry, rallied under the motto "bring back our girls."
The United Nations Security Council blacklisted Boko Haram last week, officially recognizing it as an arm of al Qaeda.
Negotiated settlement difficult
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan this month accepted international help in the search, US planes have joined the hunt for the girls, while reconnaisance and negotiation experts from Britain, France, Israel and other countries have been drafted in.
Negotiating with the Boko Haram group, blamed for more than 400 civilian deaths just since the hostage-taking, has proven problematic.
Fighters from the group issued a video earlier in May saying that they would release the girls in exchange for the release of imprisoned Boko Haram members.
The British government later said that President Jonathan had rejected such a swap deal. Talks still continue via intermediaries, however.
The Associated Press agency reported that a deal to swap the girls, which would have gone through eight days ago, was scuttled by the president at the last minute. AP was citing a human rights activist close to the talks, but without naming or quoting them.
More than 300 teenagers were initially abducted from their school on April 15. Police say 53 later escaped on their own and that 276 remain captive.