Nigerian president says amnesty has led to peace

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ABUJA, Nigeria — Nigeria’s president said an amnesty granted to militants over the past two months in the oil-rich Niger Delta has restored peace to the region.

The government says more than 8,000 militants have disarmed and taken the amnesty offer since it began in August.

President Umaru Yar’Adua said late Wednesday that “agitations” are over and that development must take place in the region for peace to continue. Yar’Adua said there is now greater stabilization in the country’s oil market.

“We are now in the process of implementing a post-amnesty program, and everybody is now on board,” he said.

The president was speaking to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ Secretary General Abdulla Salem el-Badri

Unrest in the Delta region had cut Nigeria’s oil production by about a million barrels a day, allowing Angola to overtake it as Africa’s top oil producer.

In August, the government offered militants amnesty if they agreed to disarm hoping it would allow them to increase production.

“The general amnesty I extended to all militants in the Niger Delta has led to the laying down of arms and a return of peace,” Yar’Adua said. “Our role in ensuring stability of the energy market has led to a win-win situation for all participants in the market.”

The Delta’s main militant group said it would not participate in the amnesty, but several top commanders and their men laid down their arms. Government Tompolo, Farah Dagogo, and Ebikabowei Victor Ben are some of the key militant leaders who surrendered with their fighters.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said that commanders who disarmed have been replaced. The group also vowed to resume attacks after a cease-fire expires this week.

MEND had been attacking oil installations, kidnapping petroleum company employees and fighting government troops since January 2006 in what it calls a protest against the unrelenting poverty of people in the Niger Delta.

The militant group had declared a 60-day cease-fire on July 15, saying the government had met one of its demands by releasing ailing rebel leader Henry Okah. In mid-September the group extended its cease-fire by one month, saying it hoped the truce would help facilitate talks with the government.

The militants say they are fighting to force the federal government to send more oil-industry funds to the southern region that remains poor despite five decades of oil production. The government has acknowledged the grievances of many in the Niger Delta, but denounces the militants as criminals who steal crude oil from Nigeria’s wells and pipelines and profit by selling it overseas.

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