Some of Niger Delta's prominent groups and ethnic leaders have called for urgent talks with the government to end the military's ongoing operations in the region. Rights groups say the army's indiscriminate bombing of villages in the oil-producing Niger Delta has created a humanitarian crisis.

The Nigerian military says troops will continue their search of the creeks of the Niger Delta to flush out militants whose criminal activities have hurt the country's oil production.

An army spokesman in the delta, Colonel Rabe Abubakar, says the military will continue securing the region and dismissed any talk of a so-called cease-fire.

"I am not aware of any cease-fire," he said. "We are a military people. We are not at war. It is only when you are at war that you begin to ask for cease-fire. You are just conducting an operation which will assist you in recovery or rescuing some of the foreign nationals who were taken hostage by the militants. The operation is only targeting the militants, not any other person - the militants and their hideouts."

The continuing military offensive has resulted in an angry backlash from groups and community leaders in the Niger Delta. Aid groups have not been allowed humanitarian access to the creeks to help those in need. Some reports suggest hundreds of civilians may have been killed in the two-week-old fighting.

The United Niger Delta Energy Development and Security Strategy this week hosted a meeting of all Niger Delta leaders on the current crisis. The secretary-general of the group, Tony Uranta, told VOA the fighting between the army and militants in the delta is pushing the country closer to a catastrophe. He says Niger Delta leaders resolved the only way out is for the government to accept their request for urgent talks.

"If the government grants us audience we hope within the next 72 hours, we believe we can end this. If the government refuses us audience, we may be faced with a humanitarian crisis, and we cannot say it shall not develop into a civil war. Right now, every Niger Deltan is very wary of government and government security forces," he said.

Clashes between militants and government forces are the heaviest in two years and began after the hijacking of two oil vessels and attacks on troops in southern Delta state.

The world's eighth-largest oil exporter is already suffering huge losses because of violence in the delta. The government announced Tuesday that national revenue dropped by 30 percent below budget projections in the first quarter due to a lower level of oil production than forecast.