Nigerian amnesty seen paving way for period of calm

Source: Reuters

* Two more militant leaders seen accepting amnesty * Niger Delta amnesty expires on Sunday By Nick Tattersall LAGOS, Oct 2 (Reuters) – Two more key militant leaders from Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta are expected to accept an amnesty offer before it expires on Sunday, raising hopes of a period of relative calm in Africa’s biggest energy industry. President Umaru Yar’Adua offered an unconditional pardon to militants who agree to give up arms by Oct. 4, the most serious attempt yet to resolve years of unrest which have prevented Nigeria from pumping above two-thirds of its oil capacity. Ateke Tom, a key militant leader thought to command around 2,000 men and responsible for attacks against the oil industry, is expected to hand over weapons at a ceremony on Saturday after publicly accepting the amnesty on Thursday. [ID:nL1578139] Jonjon Oyeinfe, former head of the Ijaw Youth Council ethnic rights group who has been involved in peace efforts for years, said two other key faction leaders were expected to embrace the amnesty offer this weekend. He said Farah Dagogo was already in the capital Abuja to meet the authorities and that Government Tompolo was expected to join him there on Saturday. Both men are rebel commanders with links to MEND, the region’s main militant group. “Most of the key actors are supporting the programme … It is going to give some atmosphere of peace, let’s say for 6 months, one year,” Oyeinfe told Reuters by telephone. But he said the government would need to live up to its side of the bargain — meaningful negotiations on key issues such as development for the region — if peace was to be sustained. “After that period, if government does not keep to their own side of the story it is then that a new form of hostility may arise,” Oyeinfe said. The unrest in the Niger Delta, one of the world’s largest wetlands, costs Nigeria $1 billion a month in lost revenues according to the central bank and has regularly helped push volatile world energy prices higher. [ID:nLF655977] The insecurity has been a major deterrent to new investment, particularly because of frequent kidnapping of wealthy Nigerians and expatriate employees of oil and other firms. Security experts say the three factional leaders are key to the success of the amnesty programme. [ID:nL1578259] Henry Okah, the suspected leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), has already accepted the amnesty terms after gun-running and treason charges against him were dropped and he was freed. The group itself on Tuesday named a team of mediators to negotiate with the government, including Nobel Prize-winning write Wole Soyinka and two retired senior military officials, although it said the amnesty process “lacked integrity”. It said the mediation team would oversee a “transparent and proper MEND disarmament process” although it warned that would only come once the root causes of the agitation in the Niger Delta were addressed by the government. “The embracing of the amnesty creates a window to allow sincere development to begin,” one private security contractor working in Nigeria said. “In the medium to long term security will depend on how successful and genuine that development process is,” he said, asking not to be named. (For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: http://af.reuters.com/ ) (Editing by Nick Tattersall)
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