Nigeria's president rejects Boko Haram amnesty call

President Goodluck Jonathan  arrives in Borno state. 7 March 2013 President Goodluck Jonathan, centre, is making his first official visit to Borno and Yobe

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan says his government cannot grant an amnesty to the militant Islamist group Boko Haram because it is not known who its members are or what they want.

He said the group's members were like ghosts, operating under a veil.

A Nigerian Muslim leader recently suggested such an amnesty could help end violence ravaging northern Nigeria.

Mr Jonathan was on his first official visit to the north-eastern region worst hit by the group's insurgency.

"On the issue of amnesty... you cannot declare amnesty for ghosts, Boko Haram are still operating as ghosts, you don't see the person," he told reporters in the city of Maiduguri, in Borno state.

He said Boko Haram should make itself visible and make clear what it wanted.

"You cannot declare amnesty for people that are operating under a veil so we can't even discuss the issue of amnesty. Let them come, let them tell us their problems."

Muslim leader the Sultan of Sokoto recently suggested that Boko Haram members should be offered an amnesty similar to that given to militants in the oil-producing Niger Delta in 2009.

The BBC's Tomi Oladipo in Lagos says President Jonathan wants to use his trip to the states of Borno and Yobe to assert his authority in the face of the growth security threat.

However, he is also facing widespread criticism for not visiting the region sooner, our correspondent adds.

Boko Haram says its members are fighting to create an Islamic state in Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north.

The group has been blamed for the deaths of some 1,400 people in central and northern Nigeria since 2010.

A video recently emerged purporting to show Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, denying claims that his group was taking part in peace talks with the government.

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