Sat, Apr 04, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Yar’Adua offers amnesty to Niger Delta militants

MORE THAN WORDS: The main militant group said it would only consider a ‘well-coordinated peace arrangement’ supervised by a respected mediator

REUTERS , ABUJA

Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua said on Thursday he was ready to grant amnesty to gunmen in the Niger Delta if they agreed to lay down their weapons, but the main militant group dismissed the offer as mere words.

Yar’Adua told a meeting of leaders from his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) that security chiefs would meet next week to work out “new rules of engagement” for the oil-producing region, but those who gave up violence would be pardoned.

“We will grant amnesty to all those who are ready to lay down their arms. It will also include rehabilitating and integrating them into the system,” Yar’Adua said.

Bombings of oil pipelines and kidnappings of oil workers by armed gangs in the creeks of the Niger Delta, home to Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry, have cut Nigeria’s crude oil output sharply over the past three years.

The unrest has forced oil giants, such as Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron, to move all but their most essential foreign staff out of the region, while the drop in oil output has eaten into Nigeria’s foreign earnings, compounding the effects of the global economic slowdown.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the region’s main militant group, dismissed Yar’Adua’s words.

“MEND will not lay down its arms because of a mere verbal statement from Mr Yar’Adua,” the group said in an e-mail. “It will only be considered under a well-coordinated peace arrangement, under the supervision of a respected international mediator.”

Yar’Adua gave no details of what the National Security Council — including security chiefs and ministers — would discuss next week.

Some hawks within the security forces are thought to champion a military option, viewing the militants as plain criminals, while some politicians favor negotiation, seeing a degree of legitimacy in their grievances.

Finance Minister Mansur Muhtar said last week that Nigeria’s oil production was averaging around 1.6 million barrels per day so far this year, well below installed capacity of 3 million barrels per day, partly because of the unrest.

If that trend continues for the rest of the year, Africa’s biggest oil producer will record its lowest output in more than two decades, OPEC statistics showed.

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