Nigeria will start a dialogue with the Niger Delta Avengers militant group, which has been claiming a string of attacks, its oil minister said.
President Muhammadu Buhari had appointed a team led by the national security adviser "to begin the process of a very intensive dialogue with those caught in the middle of this," Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu said late Monday.
"We are making contacts with everybody who is involved, the ones that we can identify, through them, the ones that we can't identify so that there is a lot more inclusiveness in this dialogue," he said. "Our prayer is that this works so that we resort to dialogue rather than use of force."
Kachikwu said the military would scale back its campaign to hunt down the militants in the southern region, which produces much of Nigeria's oil output.
There was no immediate response from the Avengers group, which has been issuing statements through its Twitter account.
Kachikwu also said the country's oil output was between 1.5 million and 1.6 million barrels a day, down from 2.2 million barrels at the start of the year. "Over the last two months, we have probably lost about 600,000 barrels from various attacks of militants in the area," he said.
In late March, he'd issued a public apology for fuel shortages and rising prices stemming from militant attacks on oil facilities.