The Nigerian kidnappers holding some 200 schoolgirls want to trade them for some of their jailed comrades being held in the country, the British newspaper the Telegraph reports on its website, citing a mediator.
Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for kidnapping the girls. Most recently, eight were taken from a village in the northeast part of the country.
The case has drawn worldwide attention. On Wednesday, Canada offered to provide surveillance equipment and experts to help with the Nigerian government's search for the schoolgirls.
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The Telegraph says Shehu Sani, who brokered face-to-face talks with Boko Haram, said he believes that a recent video in which a Boko Haram member says the girls will be sold as slaves proves they will be used as bargaining chips rather than killed.
"If you look at the fact that these girls have already been in captivity for some three weeks, then it is possible to detect a conciliatory tone in this statement from [the Boko member] — he is not saying he is going to kill the girls," the Telegraph quotes Sani as saying. He cited it as proof that the issue can be resolved.
The militants abducted hundreds of girls, aged 12 to 15, in Nigeria three weeks ago, sparking worldwide attention.
Jibrin Ibrahim, one of the organizers behind the Bring Back Our Girls movement, declined to comment Thursday morning on the report.
Outside help welcomed
Ibrahim told CBC News, however, that he remains hopeful that the kidnapped girls will be returned, because the kidnappers realize their value.
While he called the Nigerian government's initial responses inadequate, he was optimistic about help coming from other countries.
"I think it will make it possible for effective work on the ground to proceed," he told the CBC's Heather Hiscox.
"What has shocked us as all as citizens of Nigeria is [the] inaction at the level of the Nigerian government and armed forces. It is becoming clearer that their capacity is limited relative to these insurgents.
"Now that more help is coming from around the world, we do hope that will enable forces on the ground to intensify their action."
The United States, Britain and France are sending experts to Nigeria to help with the search for the girls.
The U.S. said Wednesday it is sending fewer than 10 military troops. A Pentagon spokesman said officials have no plans now to launch any military operations.