WARRI, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria's leading oil militants have declared a conditional ceasefire in attacks that are losing the West African nation a million barrels of oil a day. The Niger Delta Avengers also say they are willing to negotiate a peace deal.
A statement posted on the group's website and dated Saturday says they will continue an undeclared "cessation of hostilities" on condition that security forces stop harassing civilians, and that international mediators are involved.
A military campaign in the oil-producing Niger Delta has killed unknown scores of militants, soldiers and police.
The announcement follows a call Friday by community elders for all militants to join a dialogue for peace.
President Muhammadu Buhari's government already is in talks with other militants.
But it is the attacks by the Niger Delta Avengers that have cut production by 40 percent this year and caused Nigeria to lose its place to Angola as Africa's biggest oil producer.
The attacks on facilities of U.S.-based ExxonMobil and Chevron, Italy's Agip and the Dutch-British Shell resumed this year after the government stopped paying stipends to 30,000 militants under a 2009 amnesty that ended years of unrest in the Niger Delta. Some militant leaders were given multimillion-dollar contracts to protect the oil installations they once attacked.
Buhari's government earlier this month resumed the amnesty payments, though the Avengers have charged that some of the funds have been stolen over the years by militant leaders.
Oil companies have evacuated scores of workers because of attacks by the Avengers, who were demanding that the multinationals withdraw completely. The Avengers have said they want to stop production of the oil that has brought little more than misery to delta residents. Oil pollution has destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of fishermen and farmers who live in poverty without running water or electricity.
Nigeria's government is a majority shareholder in all operations by the oil multinationals.