Nigeria rebels seek amnesty for safety reasons

Some Nigerian militant leaders are prepared to lay down their weapons in the Niger Delta but fear for their safety, a spokeswoman for the federal amnesty committee said.
President Umaru Yar’Adua in June offered a 60-day amnesty to gunmen in a step to curb unrest in the Niger Delta, which has prevented Nigeria from pumping much above two-thirds of its oil capacity, costing it billions of dollars a year in lost revenues, Reuters reports.
“We have spoken to some of the big-time militants, the ‘big boys’, and they have shown their willingness to accept amnesty,” said Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, spokeswoman for the presidential panel on amnesty.
“They are concerned about their personal safety and what will happen to them after they come out from the creeks,” she added.
Hundreds of militants have expressed interest in taking the clemency. One militant leader told the panel he had 800 fighters prepared to accept amnesty, Agary said.
With 50 to 60 militant camps believed to be in the Niger Delta, the government hopes as many as 10 000 militants will participate.
She declined to say whether these militants were members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the country’s most prominent rebel group responsible for a string of attacks that have devastated the oil industry in the last three years.
MEND has declared a 60-day ceasefire to allow for peace talks with the government, but has publicly dismissed the federal amnesty programme in its current form.
Agary said it was difficult winning the militants’ trust after three years of fighting in the creeks of the Niger Delta, the heartland of Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry.
But the release of MEND’s suspected leader Henry Okah earlier this month has helped facilitate talks, she said.
Gunmen who accepted amnesty would be given a stipend of 65 000 naira per month for food and living costs during the rehabilitation programme, which officially runs from August 6 to October 4, officials said.

Pic: MEND rebel