Boko Haram Islamists who kidnapped 110 schoolgirls in Dapchi, northeast Nigeria, just over a month ago have so far returned 101 of the students to the town, the government said on Wednesday.
Information Minister Lai Mohammed said the girls were released "unconditionally". "No money changed hands," he told reporters in the capital, Abuja.
He added: "As of now, the number (of girls confirmed to have been released) has increased to 101."
Fatima Gremah, 13, who was among those released, earlier told reporters: "Boko Haram said we were lucky we were young and also Muslims.
"One of us who is a Christian has been left behind. They said they would keep her until she converted.
"If she converts, they will release her. She is the only one among us left behind."
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari said last week the government had "chosen negotiation" to secure the return of the Dapchi girls rather than use military force.
Mohammed had earlier said their release was the result of "back-channel efforts" with the help of "some friends of the country", without elaborating.
Military operations in and around Dapchi had been suspended "to ensure free passage" of the girls and also to ensure "that lives were not lost", he added.
Nigeria's presidency said separately the girls were in the custody of the country's intelligence agency, the Department of State Services.
'Five died en route'
The Dapchi kidnapping on February 19 brought back painful memories of a similar abduction in Chibok in April 2014, when more than 200 girls were taken.
Aisha Alhaji Deri, a 16-year-old student who was among those kidnapped in Dapchi, told reporters they were not mistreated during their time in captivity.
But she added: "When we were being taken away, five of us died on the way.
"They brought us back this morning, dropped us outside the motor park and said we should all go home and not go to the military because they will claim to have rescued us."
Fatima Gremah and another girl, Amira Adamu Mohammed, 16, both also said they were not mistreated and were given food to cook.
Fatima indicated they were held on an island on Lake Chad, which is a known stronghold for fighters loyal to Boko Haram factional leader Abu Mus'ab al-Barnawi.
'Three days by boat'
"They just told us on Saturday to get onto boats. We spent three days on the water before coming to shore, then they put us in vehicles and said they were taking us back home."
Parents earlier told AFP the girls were brought back to Dapchi in nine vehicles at about 8:00 am. Some of the students headed to their homes in surrounding villages.
Bashir Manzo, who heads a parents' support group in Dapchi, said: "These girls were not accompanied by any security personnel.
"Their abductors brought them, dropped them outside the school and left, without talking to anyone."
Parents in the remote town said the girls had been taken for medical check-ups after their ordeal.
Kidnapping as strategy
Boko Haram has used kidnapping as a weapon of war during its nearly nine-year insurgency which has claimed at least 20,000 lives and made more than two million others homeless.
LEAVE A COMMENT Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*
SA to open up economy from June under eased restrictions
French court rejects bail for Rwanda genocide suspect
Kenya under fire over quarantine centres
Galaxy of African stars hold virtual coronavirus concert
I Coast children head back to school after virus shutdown
Hit by coronavirus, Kenyans turn to car boot commerce
Africans celebrate Eid in the shadow of Covid-19
Visually-impaired Nigerians struggle to navigate challenges
Mum on virus, Tanzania to reopen universities