Talks on Nigeria reach stalemate

The first negotiations between Nigeria and the Commonwealth since the execution of the political rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa seemed to be running into the sand last night.

On the second day of the talks in London, a Nigerian delegation was said to have again rejected the Commonwealth's request to send a high-level mission to the country to examine human rights abuses. Despite the release of seven political detainees in Nigeria and the "friendly" atmosphere at the talks, the Nigerian Foreign Minister, Tom Ikimi, was said to have adopted a hard line.

Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth after the execution of Mr Saro-Wiwa and eight other minority activists last November. Mr Ikimi suggested a four-step settlement, including the reinstatement of Nigeria in return for a three-year "transition" from military rule. But this was dismissed by Commonwealth officials as inadequate.

"It was all pretty thin. I don't think the Nigerians realised what was expected from them or how upset the rest of the world is with them," said one official involved in talks between the Nigerians and an eight-nation Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG).

"If this doesn't get sorted out, there is a chance that we will go our way and they will go theirs. Things do not look stunningly good at the moment," the official said.

The Nigerian military regime first refused to admit a CMAG mission earlier this year. The group recommended a series of sanctions, including a ban on arms sales, but these were held in abeyance to give Nigeria time to come to London to negotiate.

Mr Ikimi's plan called for the suspension of his country to be lifted immediately, and that all sanctions be abandoned. In return there would be a "high-level dialogue" and a three-year transition to democracy, funded by the Commonwealth.

"I don't think they're going to get what they want. A lot will depend on a CMAG mission being allowed into Nigeria in the future," one Commonwealth official said.