MEMBERS of the Boko Haram group have released 82 schoolgirls from the nearly 300 they abducted in north-eastern Nigeria three years ago, Nigeria’s government has announced.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s office said the Chibok schoolgirls were freed in exchange for “some Boko Haram suspects held by the authorities”.

The mass abduction of the 276 girls exposed the mounting threat posed by the Daesh-linked fighters.

The statement from the office of President Muhammadu Buhari was the first confirmation that his government had made a swap for the girls.

After an initial release of 21 Chibok girls in October, the government denied making an exchange or paying a ransom.

The April 2014 abduction by Boko Haram brought the group’s rampage in northern Nigeria to world attention and, for families of the schoolgirls, began years of anguish.

Many of the captive girls, most of them Christians, were forced to marry their captors and give birth to children in remote forest hideouts without ever knowing if they would see their parents again.

It is feared others were strapped with explosives and sent on missions as suicide bombers.

Before Saturday’s release, 195 of the girls had remained captive. Now 113 remain unaccounted for.

A Nigerian military official with direct knowledge of the rescue operation said the freed girls were found near the town of Banki in Borno state, near Cameroon.

“The location of the girls kept changing since yesterday, when the operation to rescue them commenced,” said the official.

Boko Haram remains active in that area.

On Friday, America and Britain issued warnings that the group was actively planning to kidnap foreigners in Borno state “along the Kumshe-Banki axis”.

The 276 schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok in 2014 are among thousands of people abducted by Boko Haram over the years. The global #Bringbackourgirls campaign has put pressure on Nigeria’s government to counter the extremists, who have roamed large parts of the north.