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Nigerian Militants Reject Amnesty, Say Key Issues Not Addressed

BLOOMBERG.COM

By Dulue Mbachu

June 27 (Bloomberg) — The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the main armed group in Nigeria’s oil region, said it rejected a government amnesty offer because it failed to address key issues.

“The proclamation of amnesty seems to be directed at criminals,” Jomo Gbomo, spokesman for the group, also known as MEND, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “If the proclamation was directed at freedom fighters with a cause, it would have addressed the root issues.”

President Umaru Yar’Adua declared amnesty for armed groups in the Niger River delta on June 25, giving them until Oct. 4 to surrender their weapons, renounce violence and accept rehabilitation in order to avoid prosecution. Armed attacks in the region that produces nearly all of Nigeria’s oil have cut production by more than 20 percent since 2006.

Issues not addressed by the amnesty offer include the “genuine, unconditional release” for MEND leader Henry Okah who is facing a trial for treason and gun-running, “true federalism” and restitution for civilian victims of military raids in the oil region, Gbomo said in the statement.

The government plans to free Okah, who was arrested in Angola in 2007 and deported to Nigeria to face trial, Interior Minister Godwin Abbe said yesterday. Militants have 60 days from Aug. 6 to Oct. 4 to accept the amnesty and surrender at any police station.

The military will halt attacks while the amnesty offer lasts and will only respond if attacked, Chief of Defense Staff, Air Chief Marshal Paul Dike, told reporters in Abuja yesterday.

Militant Leaders

Five militant leaders, including Ateke Tom, Farah Dagogo, Soboma George, Ebikabowei Victor, who is also known as “Boyloaf,” and Sonny, whose nickname is “Osama bin Laden,” have accepted the amnesty offer, Ikenna Enekweizu, a lawyer who said he was representing them, told reporters yesterday in the oil hub of Port Harcourt.

MEND said in its statement, however, that Dagogo and Boyloaf dissociate themselves from the proposal by Enekweizu.

The militant group, which claims to be fighting for the oil region’s poor yet to benefit from its energy resources, has stepped up a sabotage campaign against Nigeria’s oil industry since a military offensive against its positions began last month in the delta.

Shell’s Afremo offshore oil platform was attacked by its fighters hours after amnesty was announced, spokesman Gbomo said. While Shell has suffered the most attacks, oil facilities run by Chevron Corp. and Eni SpA have also been damaged.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dulue Mbachu in Lagos at [email protected]

Last Updated: June 27, 2009 08:44 EDT

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