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Nigeria Pursuing Talks With Boko Haram Group, Obasanjo Says

Former Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo said President Goodluck Jonathan’s government is seeking dialogue with the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram.

“Within the last 48 hours I heard that the government is pursuing dialogue with Boko Haram,” Obasanjo said today in an interview in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. “Until now I think there was an element of ambivalence. We didn’t know if the government really wanted to talk and negotiate.”

Obasanjo, who served twice as the leader of Africa’s largest oil producer, said he heard of the new approach “from people close to the president.” He didn’t give details on when the government decided to pursue talks with the group. Reuben Abati, a spokesman for Jonathan, didn’t answer three calls to his mobile phone or respond to a text message seeking comment.

Boko Haram, which seeks to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria, has claimed responsibility for a series of bomb and gun attacks in the mostly Muslim north and Abuja, the capital, that have killed hundreds of people since 2009.

Vice President Namadi Sambo said yesterday that the government is calling “on all aggrieved groups to cease fire and come forward for dialogue.”

While he didn’t mention Boko Haram by name in a statement on the presidency’s website, he criticized “negative forces” responsible for “senseless killings” that portray Islam in a bad light.

Attacks Hurt Earnings

Abul Qaqa, a spokesman for Boko Haram, said in March the militants were ruling out talks with the government after details of initial negotiations between state officials and Datti Ahmed, an Islamic leader who was acting as a mediator, were leaked to Nigerian newspapers.

The bombings and attacks by Boko Haram are curbing sales of Nigerian Breweries Plc, the nation’s largest brewer by market value, in the north, Chief Executive Officer Nicolaas Vervelde said yesterday in an interview in Lagos.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with more than 160 million people, is almost evenly split between the largely Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.

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