Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan voiced support for negotiations with a radical Islamist group that is suspected of carrying out almost daily attacks in northeastern Nigeria.
Suspected members of the Boko Haram group, which says it wants a wider application of strict sharia Islamic law in Africa’s most populous nation, have carried out attacks in recent months in and around Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.
The group last week claimed responsibility for the May 29 bombings that killed at least 16 people hours after Jonathan was sworn in, Reuters reports.
“No government wants to kill the citizens of that country, whether they are carrying weapons against the state or not,” Jonathan told reporters on the sidelines of a major U.N. conference on HIV/AIDS.
“They are citizens,” he said. “The best option is to negotiate and make sure that they don’t do that. We have succeeded in doing that in the Niger Delta area.”
Bomb attacks in the north have rapidly replaced militant raids on oil facilities in the southern Niger Delta as the main security threat in the country of more than 150 million people.
At least three explosions hit Nigeria’s northeastern town of Maiduguri on Tuesday and gunfire rang out after suspected members of Boko Haram attacked police stations.
Jonathan said negotiations combined with an amnesty in the Delta had proven an effective way of reducing tensions there.
He also dismissed the idea that the latest violence was a sign of tensions between the country’s Muslims and Christians.
“The issue is not Christian versus Muslim,” he said. “If you look at the Boko Haram attacks — this is the recent explosions in Nigeria … — they attack the main Islamic groups more” because Boko Haram opposes Westernization.
“Anybody who embraces Western civilization or Western education is an enemy,” he said. “They are even more antagonistic towards their fellow Muslims embracing the Western way of life.”
He added that if negotiations in a “carrot-and-stick” approach failed to yield results, other options would have to be considered. He did not elaborate.
Jonathan was due to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama later on Wednesday. He will also meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton while he is in Washington.