INTERVIEW-Nigeria might talk to Boko Haram via "back channels"

Fri Dec 30, 2011 3:05pm GMT

By Tim Cocks and Felix Onuah

ABUJA Dec 30 (Reuters) - Nigerian security services are considering making contact with moderate members of shadowy Islamist sect Boko Haram via "back channels", even though explicit talks are officially ruled out, the national security adviser said on Friday.

Speaking a day after emergency meetings with President Goodluck Jonathan and top security officials in response to a spate of deadly Christmas Day bombings by the sect, National Security Adviser General Owoye Andrew Azazi told Reuters officials were looking at broadening efforts beyond pure security measures -- including addressing northern economic grievances.

"Even if government has a policy saying that there's no negotiation, that you can't reach out to Boko Haram, intelligence must find a way," Azazi said in an interview.

"I don't think it's everybody (in Boko Haram) who believes in the level of violence ... That's why you could have other channels for discussion ... It's something we could pursue."

Azazi declined to comment on whether contact with moderate members of Boko Haram had already been made.

"From our perspective, you try back channels. And when you are trying back channels, that's not when the president will come and announce to the whole of Nigeria that 'I'm talking to mister A or mister B,'" he said.

Azazi's comments signal an apparent shift from treating Boko Haram purely as a security issue that needs to be tackled militarily. Jonathan has been criticised for ignoring political avenues that might heal the north-south rift partly underpinning the conflict.

The death toll from a bomb attack on a church just outside Nigeria's capital Abuja on Christmas Day rose to 37, with 57 people wounded, emergency services said on Friday, underscoring the pressing need to deal with the threat of Islamist militancy.   Continued...

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