Nigerian president meets ex-militants after amnesty

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ABUJA — Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua held talks Friday with key militants to discuss the future of the country’s troubled Niger Delta oil hub, sources close to the meeting said.

The meeting was expected to focus on the militants’ grievances and the government’s rehabilitation programme for them as well as plan to develop the impoverished delta region, they said.

More than a dozen ex-militants who have agreed to a government amnesty, including most of the leaders of armed groups from Niger Delta, attended the meeting along with Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, state governors from the southern region, and other figures including rights and environmental activists, they said.

The region’s most prominent armed group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), boycotted the meeting and has vowed to resume hostilities. But its former overall field commander, Farah Dagogo, was present.

Other prominent ex-militants are Tom Ateke, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, Boyloaf and Soboma George.

Yar’Adua’s unconditional amnesty for all the militants runs from August 6 to October 4.

Figures released by Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, spokeswoman of the government amnesty team, showed that as of Tuesday, 8,299 militants had agreed to the terms in seven oil-producing states in the south of Nigeria.

Koripamo-Agary described the unconditional pardon of the fighters, whose violent activities played havoc with the international oil market, a “monumental success”.

Attacks on oil facilities in the past three years have reduced Nigeria’s oil output by a third and helped send oil prices sky-rocketing to last year’s record high of 147 dollars a barrel.

Earlier Friday Amnesty International accused Western oil firms of causing a “catastrophic situation” in the Delta.

Francis Perrin, a member of the rights group’s executive bureau, told a press conference in Paris there was a “direct link between oil exploitation, the degradation of the environment, and the violation of economic, social, cultural, civic and political rights.”

Meanwhile Rebels who reject the amnesty say they will fight on.

A MEND spokesman Wednesday dismissed the government amnesty programme as a “charade” and warned it would resume attacks on oil facilities once its ceasefire expires next week.

MEND, which says it is fighting for a greater local share of the region’s oil wealth, declared a 60-day ceasefire on July 15, and extended it by 30 days on September 15.

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