Nigeria rebel leaders surrender arms for amnesty

Source: Reuters

* Hundreds of militants disarm in Niger Delta * Residents cheer rebels as they prepare to surrender (Updates with disarmament ceremony, ex-militant quotes) By Nick Tattersall PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, Oct 3 (Reuters) – Hundreds of fighters loyal to two Nigerian rebel leaders surrendered their weapons and accepted amnesty on Saturday after years of fighting in the oil-producing Niger Delta. Militant commanders Ateke Tom and Farah Dagogo, whose fighters have mounted many of the attacks on the oil industry in the eastern Niger Delta, led gunmen from their camps in the mangrove creeks of the Niger Delta to the oil hub of Port Harcourt. President Umaru Yar’Adua has offered all gunmen in the Niger Delta an unconditional pardon if they surrender their weapons by Sunday. The offer was one of the most serious attempts yet to stem unrest which has prevented Nigeria from producing much more than two-thirds of its oil capacity, costing it billions of dollars a year in lost revenue. “Today I disarm and I urge others who are yet to do so to also disarm,” Tom said at a ceremony in Port Harcourt attended by government and military officials. “I believe Yar’Adua is sincere. He wants to develop the Niger Delta, so let’s give him a chance.” WEAPONS AND WHISKEY Hundreds of Tom’s supporters marched through Port Harcourt chanting, drinking whiskey and gin and brandishing their weapons while residents and security forces lined the streets to watch. “It is not proper for us to be in the bush. We cannot enjoy our lives. So I am happy today,” said Wisdom Aziza, who said he had fought in the creeks for four years. “But it is not easy to stop. The government must empower the boys, allocate them to a job, not just give them money. Train them, give them skills or else we will go back to the creeks.” Fellow militant leader Farah Dagogo was expected to follow Tom’s example and disarm later on Saturday. “The two are doing it simultaneously. At the same time, Farah is at the State Security Service headquarters in Port Harcourt disarming,” said Blessing Nwikina, spokesman for Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said on Thursday it had encouraged Tom, Dagogo and other commanders to step aside for the safety of their families. [ID:nL1734739] Government Tompolo, who commands thousands of fighters in the Niger Delta, is the last known militant commander with links to MEND that has yet to surrender. Activists say that, even if rebel commanders disarm, there is little to prevent the fighters from finding new leaders and resuming attacks. (Additional reporting by Austin Ekeinde; Editing by Randy Fabi) (For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: http://af.reuters.com/)
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