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Boko Haram open to Nigeria talks, self-styled spokesman says

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — The Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram is ready to stop attacks and hold talks with the government provided that the latter proves it's sincere, according to a self-proclaimed spokesman for the group.

The group will cease its attacks if the former governor of the northeastern Borno state, Ali Sheriff, is arrested, Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulaziz told reporters Thursday. Abdulaziz identified himself when he contacted reporters in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, Boko Haram's birthplace and stronghold. The group's usual spokesman was arrested this year.

Abdulaziz accused Sheriff of arresting and killing the group's members when he was in office without reason. "We have been practicing our religion in this town without any problem until the man came and caused this problem," he said.

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Boko Haram's insurgency began after its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed while in police custody in 2009. Since then the group, which says it's fighting to impose Islamic law in Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, has carried out attacks in the mainly Muslim north and the capital Abuja which have killed more than 1,500 people, according to Human Rights Watch.

Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for bombings and gun attacks targeting churches, government buildings, police, soldiers, officials and Muslims who disagree with the group. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said attacks by the group may constitute crimes against humanity.

Abdulaziz said the talks should be held in Saudi Arabia, and that the government must compensate the group for members who were killed and resettle others who were displaced along with their families. The dialogue should be held between Boko Haram representatives and prominent Nigerians including former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, he said.

"We want dialogue, but the government must show sincerity in its handling of the situation," he said.

Abdulaziz said Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, assigned five members to lead the talks. The group has repeatedly ruled out talks with the government this year. Shekau said in a video posted on YouTube on Sept. 30 that "we never sought dialogue" and accused the government of "deceiving the Nigerian people on this issue."

Abul Qaqa, who has previously spoken on behalf of the group, has been arrested, according to Shekau. Qaqa used to phone journalists to make announcements or claim responsibility for attacks, using a voice-altering device.

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