ABUJA - The cease-fire deal announced by the Nigerian government on Friday appears to be unraveling as fresh clashes between soldiers and Boko Haram militants are reported in the northeastern town of Damboa.
The news comes as the government prepares for more regionally mediated talks in Chad to discuss the release of 219 schoolgirls still held by the sect.
Residents of Borno state said that since the cease-fire was announced Friday, militants have attacked several communities - killing at least 40 people and hoisting their black flag over the border town of Abadam.
The government said those attacks were the work of “fringe groups” who hadn’t yet gotten word of the cease-fire.
U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf called Monday on all parties in Nigeria to implement and maintain the cease-fire agreement and said the United States hopes the deal leads to the release of the schoolgirls.
"Obviously, we join the world, I think, in hoping that these girls would be reunited with their families as soon as possible, but it is our understanding that those negotiations will continue."
However, a member of a civilian militia group allied with the government and an army officer in Borno state, told VOA that on Sunday night Boko Haram militants stormed the town of Damboa. A state intelligence official in Borno told VOA the army drove back the attack and killed 25 insurgents.
The fighting casts even further doubt on the cease-fire.
The spokesman for the Borno Elders Forum, Bulama Mali Guide, said leaders in the three most affected states were not part of the talks and have been given no details.
“This deal, as announced by the federal government, is very sketchy because nothing is being spelled out. We are not told of the nitty-gritty of the peace deal," Guide said.
"I think they should come here to find out from us how the Boko Haram are because the real Boko Haram we know who are killing us, who are burning our towns and villages, I'm sure are not the Boko Haram they negotiated with," he said.
Only one purported Boko Haram leader has confirmed the cease-fire, and many said they have never heard of Danladi Amadu, the man who claimed to VOA's Hausa news service to be Boko Haram’s secretary general.
Some northern leaders and analysts told VOA they worried the cease-fire announcement was politically motivated.
President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been criticized for not doing enough to stop Boko Haram, is soon expected to announce his candidacy for re-election in 2015.
Chad mediating talks
The Nigerian government said the talks happening in Chad were legitimate and were part of larger efforts to end the five-year old insurgency. The Chadian government confirmed that it has been acting as a mediator.
The ruling PDP party held a rally Saturday in Abuja for the president’s “Transformation” agenda.
Supporters, like Honorable Johnson from Ado state, said previous negotiations with Boko Haram have been “sabotaged” but this time was different.
“It has been falling on wrong hands and now they have come to competent hands, who are reliable to do it and we believe in good results,” he said.
Across town, members of the Bring Back Our Girls movement held their daily rally.
In addition to the cease-fire, the government had also announced Friday that Boko Haram was willing to release the schoolgirls it took from their dormitories in the town of Chibok in April.
Of the 276 girls kidnapped, 57 managed to escape and 219 remain missing. The government negotiator told VOA he was “cautiously optimistic” of negotiations to free the girls.
Bring Back Our Girls’ leaders said they would believe the release when it happens. Their hopes have been raised before. At the rally, people took turns addressing the group, digesting and dissecting the news.
Bring Back Our Girls
Chibok resident Comfort Iliya stood up.
“All I’m saying on behalf of the Chibok people, whether there is negotiation, whether there is agreement, whether there is cease-fire, we don’t care. We don’t give a damn. We don’t give a hoot," Iliya said.
"All we want is our daughters to be brought back. Period. That is all the Chibok people are saying. … Enough is enough. We have had enough,” Iliya said.
A presidential spokesman told VOA that negotiations for the girls were expected to begin Tuesday in Chad. He could not say how long the talks would take or specifically what terms the government would consider.
(Abdulkareem Haruna contributed reporting from Maiduguri, Nigeria.)