Nigeria to open talks with Islamist sect: Official

The panel will negotiate with the Boko Haram sect and report back to the government on or before August 16.

Abuja: Nigeria`s government will open talks with an Islamist sect blamed for scores of deadly bomb blasts and shootings in the northeast, a federal government statement said on Saturday.

The panel will negotiate with the Boko Haram sect and report back to the government on or before August 16, the statement from the office of the secretary of the federal government said.

President Goodluck Jonathan has named the seven members of the panel, including the ministers of defence and labour as well as the minister of the Federal Capital Territory, which encompasses Abuja, the statement added.

Describing the panel`s duties, it said they would include acting "as a liaison between the federal government ... and Boko Haram and to initiate negotiations with the sect."

It would also work with the national security adviser to ensure the country`s security forces were acting with "professionalism," the statement said.

A police-military task force in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, where most of the violence has occurred, has been accused of carrying out raids in recent weeks that have left dozens dead and residents` homes burnt.

The panel will be inaugurated on Tuesday, the statement said.

The decision to negotiate with the sect is almost sure to be controversial.

Many people have argued against such a move, objecting in particular to any suggestion the Islamists be given an amnesty similar to that provided to militants in the oil-producing Niger Delta.

Jonathan appointed the panel after meeting with leaders from the mainly Muslim north earlier this month, the statement said.

Nigeria`s northeast, particularly Maiduguri, has seen almost daily bomb blasts and shootings in recent weeks blamed on the sect.

The sect has claimed to be fighting for the establishment of an Islamic state in Nigeria, Africa`s most populous nation of 150 million people split roughly in half between Christians and Muslims.

Boko Haram launched an uprising in 2009 put down by a brutal military assault that left hundreds dead.

It seemed to re-emerge last year with assassinations by gunmen on motorcycles of police, soldiers, politicians and community leaders.

Bomb blasts have become more common in recent months, with most occurring in Maiduguri, though an explosion ripped through a car park at police headquarters in the capital Abuja last month and several blasts have occurred in Suleija, near the capital.

There has been intense speculation over whether some of the violence has been politically linked and if the sect has received support from Islamist groups outside of Nigeria.

Bureau Report

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