July 22, 2016 / 10:17 AM / 3 years ago

Main ethnic group in Nigeria's Delta wants Buhari involved in peace talks

ONITSHA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigeria’s president needs to get personally involved in talks with militants in the Niger Delta, an organization representing the largest ethnic group in the region said on Friday.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari speaks at a joint news conference with his French counterpart Francois Hollande at the presidential villa in Abuja, Nigeria, May 14, 2016 REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

On Thursday, President Muhammadu Buhari’s office said the government was talking to militants through security agencies and oil companies to halt attacks on oil and gas facilities.

But the youth council of the Ijaw ethnic group called that statement “highly ridiculous and laughable”, adding that “the issues at stake are completely beyond the capacity of oil companies to resolve”.

A wave of attacks in the region over the past six months have cut oil production by 700,000 barrels a day, the state energy company has said. Formerly Africa’s biggest oil producer, Nigeria’s output now ranks behind Angola’s.

The militants say they want a greater share of the country’s oil wealth to go to the impoverished Delta region. Crude sales make up around 70 percent of national income and most of that oil comes from the southern swampland.

“Only a sincere and holistic dialogue with the people of the Niger Delta region ... can bring permanent peace,” the youth group said in a statement. “This can only happen when President Buhari as the political leader of Nigeria comes down to the negotiation table.”

The Niger Delta Avengers, a militant group which has claimed responsibility for most of the attacks in recent months, late on Thursday said it was “not aware of any peace talks”.

In the statement, carried on its website, the group also reiterated that it would not participate in talks without the involvement of the international community.

Buhari caused widespread anger among former militants in the Delta earlier this year when he cut by around two-thirds the budget for an amnesty program, agreed in 2009, that offers them cash and job training.

On Thursday, the president said his government was reviewing the amnesty program.

Reporting by Anamesere Igboeroteonwu; Writing by Ulf Laessing and Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Larry King

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