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Nigerian Ijaw Leaders in Talks for Militant's Release

Nigerian militia leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari is back in court for the continuation of his treason trial. Armed groups in the Niger Delta have demanded his release and Gilbert da Costa reports for VOA that the government has come under considerable pressure to free him.

There are growing indications that the Nigerian government may succumb to pressure and release Dokubo-Asari.

He was arrested in 2005 after calling for the oil-rich Niger Delta to secede.

Prosecutors and defense teams at federal high court in Abuja agreed to adjourn to enable parties to explore what they described as some fresh developments, an indication that some form of negotiation may be ongoing.

Alabo Graham-Douglas, a prominent Ijaw leader, who led a delegation from Asari's native rivers state, told reporters that the release of Asari was extremely important for resolving the delta crisis.

"We believe that if our boys today that are held behind bars are released, permanent peace will return to the Niger Delta," he said. "We have faith and confidence in the Nigerian government."

For the first time since the trial started about a year and half ago, the militant leader was allowed to meet his family and lawyers.

Festus Keyamo, counsel to Asari insists that his client is not interested in any deal to get him released.

"There are attempts at intervention by the elders of Niger Delta region, especially Ijaw leaders from Rivers state, led by the very respected Alabo Graham-Douglas, two-time minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the initiatives that they have proposed to resolve the issue are not, let me emphasis, are not the initiative of Asari-Dokubo or myself," said Keyamo. "We have remained consistent in our position that we shall not negotiate with the Nigerian government."

Hundreds of armed security men backed by armored personnel carriers cordoned off the entire area around the courthouse and engaged in scuffles with journalists and lawyers.

The Nigerian government has come under tremendous pressure to release Asari in a bid to quell spiraling violence in the delta before elections next month that should mark the first democratic transition in Africa's most populous country.