<!-- IMAGE -->

Nigeria's main militant group said on Sunday it held frank, cordial and useful discussions with President Umaru Yar'Adua about the peace process in the oil-rich Niger Delta region. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta had threatened to resume attacks against the nation's oil industry if substantive negotiations were not held. 

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua and rebel leaders said the two-hour long meeting at the Presidential Villa in Abuja to discuss prospects for peace in the oil region was very successful.

It was the Nigerian leader's first meeting with the MEND-appointed negotiating team, which includes 1986 Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka. Mr. Yar'Adu's office described the meeting as "highly fruitful."

The government has intensified efforts to end the Niger Delta crisis, offering unconditional amnesty to thousands of militants. Nigeria plans to offer inhabitants of the Niger Delta 10 percent of oil and gas ventures in a bid to end the rebellion that has cost the country billions of dollars in lost oil revenue.

The government has also proposed a massive infrastructure development program for the impoverished oil-producing region. A former top rebel commander, Boy Loaf, says development of the Niger Delta should start from the creeks or rebels will have an excuse to continue their activities.

"They should start the development from that creek because the creek is the only hideout for our people," said Boy Loaf. "The creek is the only hideout so the development should go to the creeks so that the people can have a sense of belonging."

Since 2006, militant activities have disrupted operations of oil companies in southern Nigeria, resulting in a sharp decline in production. Nigeria, one of Africa's two biggest oil producers, derives more than 90 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from oil.

Petroleum Minister Rilwanu Lukman says the gradual return to stability in the Niger Delta means Nigeria can now meet its quota of 1.7 million barrels of oil a day set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.