Work begins to rebuild Chibok girls' school: Nigerian govt

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Abuja (AFP) - Nigeria's government on Friday said that work had begun to rebuild a school in the northeastern town of Chibok from where Boko Haram gunmen kidnapped more than 200 girls last year.

Finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala laid the foundation stone at the Government Secondary School on Thursday on behalf of President Goodluck Jonathan, a statement from her office said.

Islamist fighters seized 276 teenagers on the evening of April 14 in a case that caused global outrage. Fifty-seven managed to escape but 11 months later, 219 are still being held captive.

Jonathan said in the statement: "We sympathise with the Chibok community. We know what you are going through.

"But I want to assure you that we are working day and night to make sure that life returns to normal both in your community and all others affected by terrorism."

The government was criticised for its slow response to the kidnapping and was pressured into accepting international help as a global campaign calling for the girls' release gathered pace.

Some of the girls were shown on a Boko Haram video released soon after the abduction, indicating that many of them had converted to Islam.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has also claimed that the teenagers have been married off.

The search for the girls appears to have come to a dead end, despite the country's most senior military officer claiming last year that their location was known but a rescue was too dangerous.

The six-year conflict, which is estimated to have left more than 13,000 people dead and 1.5 million others homeless, has also severely disrupted education.

Boko Haram, whose names roughly translates from the Hausa language as "Western education is forbidden", has targeted schools teaching a secular curriculum. Schools have either been shut or burned down.

The United Nations has said that some 10.5 million children in Nigeria are out of school, including those hit by the conflict.

In Chibok, more than 3,000 have been unable to return to classes since last year's abduction, Jonathan said, calling the situation "unacceptable".: the Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon has claimed a series of successes in recent weeks to secure and stabilise the northeast in time for general elections on March 28.

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