The main militant group in Nigeria's oil-producing south on Tuesday named a team of mediators to negotiate with government, days before an amnesty and disarmament offer is to expire.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the group responsible for the loss of production of about one million barrels of oil a day in Nigeria, said in an e-mail statement that the team would negotiate with the government on its behalf.
Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka is a member of the four-member panel, which also includes two retired army generals.
Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua granted amnesty to Niger Delta militants in June and urged them to lay down their arms between August 6 and October 4. MEND rejected the offer and demanded talks on improving the lives of delta's impoverished residents and fixing the massive environmental damage caused by decades of unregulated oil production.
A spokeswoman for the amnesty implementation committee, Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, says the rebel group's acceptance of the amnesty offer could open the door for meaningful discussions with the government.
"I think we need to consolidate the peace that we have won from their gracious declaration of ceasefire and from the president's very magnanimous proclamation of unconditional amnesty to militants," he said. "So I think we need to ask that they embrace the amnesty so that they can come out and join in the process of rebuilding the Niger Delta, join in the process of political engagement, discussions and the negotiations."
Nigeria's Defense Minister Godwin Abbe has ruled out extending the October 4 deadline for militants to disarm and embrace peace.
Since 2006, militants' activities have crippled operations of oil companies in southern Nigeria, resulting in a drastic fall in production.
MEND declared a 60-day cease-fire in July and hasn't carried out any attacks since then. But it says it has not ruled out resuming raids on the oil industry.