Nigeria's government signals talks with Islamists
ABUJA (AFP) - Nigeria's government signalled Saturday they had held some form of talks with Islamist militants waging a deadly insurgency, but its statement was vague and the extremists have repeatedly ruled out dialogue.
The statement from Information Minister Labaran Maku came with the country on high alert ahead of Eid celebrations marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, with warnings that fresh attacks could occur.
It was issued in response to a news report this week claiming that a purported spokesman for Islamist extremist group Boko Haram said direct talks were underway with the government.
The statement from the Boko Haram "spokesman" was given to a reporter in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the report said, which is not the usual way the group communicates with journalists.
"The federal government welcomes any initiative that will usher in peace, security and tranquillity in the country, especially in the light of the security challenges that we have faced in the last two years," the government statement said.
"In this context, we welcome the statement by (Boko Haram) acknowledging that they have been in contact with the federal government through its representatives and have started negotiations with the objective of reaching a final solution to this crisis."
Maku was asked about the reported dialogue earlier in the week and said he could not confirm it.
A previous attempt at dialogue earlier this year broke down when a mediator quit over leaks to the media and a spokesman for what is believed to be the main faction of Boko Haram said the government could not be trusted.
The main faction of the group has accused the government of using propaganda to discredit it and has repeatedly ruled out further dialogue.
Nigeria's recently appointed National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki, a prominent figure in the country's mainly Muslim north, has spoken of dialogue through local institutions, including religious leaders.
Boko Haram has been blamed for more than 1,400 deaths since 2010 in the northern and central regions of Africa's most populous nation.