Nigerian militant group says agrees on ceasefire, ready for dialogue with government
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By Tife Owolabi
YENAGOA, Nigeria (Reuters) - A Nigerian militant group, which has claimed a wave of attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta, said it was ready for a ceasefire and a dialogue with the government.
The restive southern swampland region has been rocked by violence against oil and gas pipelines since the start of the year, reducing the OPEC member's output by 700,000 barrels a day to 1.56 million bpd.
Any ceasefire agreement would be very difficult to enforce as the militant scene is divided into small groups dominated by unemployed youth driven by poverty, who are difficult to control even by their "generals".
"We are going to continue the observation of our announced ceasefire of hostilities in the Niger Delta against ... the multinational oil corporations," the Niger Delta Avengers said in a statement received by Reuters on Sunday.
"We promise to fight more for the Niger Delta, if this opportunity fails," it said.
The Niger Delta Avengers have claimed several major attacks but have been apparently less active in recent weeks, which has led to speculation about a ceasefire as the government has been trying for two months to reach out to the militants.
The group said it would support a dialogue "to engage with the federal government of Nigeria, representatives from the home countries of all multinational Oil Corporations and neutral international mediators."
It only said it wanted talks to focus on de-escalating the Niger Delta conflict. The group previously said it was fighting for oil revenues to drag the region out of poverty, floating even the idea of secession, a goal out of question for the government.
The statement was sent to Reuters by mail but it was not possible to contact the group which only communicates with the media via statements on social media, its website or sent by mail.
Like other militant groups, the Avengers has apparently split, making it difficult for the government to identify the right people to talk to.
The was no immediate statement from the government of President Muhammadu Buhari but a youth council representing the largest ethnic group in the swampland urged the government to seize the opportunity for dialogue.
"We welcome the conditional declaration of ceasefire by the Niger Delta Avengers if it is actually from them," the Ijaw Youth Council said in a statement.
"We call on the federal government, especially President Buhari, to take advantage of this ceasefire to aggressively dialogue with the people of the region to address the issues affecting the region."
(Reporting by Tife Owolabi and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Toby Chopra)
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