Reuters International

By Tife Owolabi

YENAGOA, Nigeria (Reuters) - A group of Nigerian former militants have urged the Niger Delta Avengers, who have claimed responsibility for a recent string of attacks on oil and gas facilities, to join in discussions with the government, a statement said on Sunday.

Last week, the Avengers said they would not cooperate with a government initiative to start talks with them and other militants over their demands for a greater share of oil wealth and pollution in the impoverished southern swamp area.

The attacks have cut Nigeria's oil output to a 20-year low.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said: "If indeed your cause is to avenge the injustice done to the Niger Delta region then, we urge you to ceasefire and join us to the table of negotiation with the federal Government."

MEND, one of largest militant groups until it signed up for a government amnesty in 2009, said in a statement it had nominated a team of negotiators on its own behalf.

"Following useful exploratory discussions held with high ranking officials of the current administration... MEND has constituted (a team) to dialogue with the federal Government on the immediate, medium and long-term future of the Niger Delta region," it said.

MEND has said some of its former commanders and fighters make up the Avengers, claims denied by the group. Security officials have also linked a MEND commander to the Avengers, though he denies this.

The government has moved in army reinforcements to the southern swamps but Western allies such as Britain have said widespread poverty and oil spills in the Niger Delta need to be addressed to stop the militants.

(Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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