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Nigeria Urges Rebel Group to Accept Amnesty

By Gilbert da Costa
16 September 2009

The Nigerian government has welcomed the extension of a truce declared by the main armed group in the oil-rich Niger Delta. The rebel group says it was prolonging by 30 days its ceasefire, which expired at midnight.

Presidential Amnesty Committee spokeswoman Tamie Koripama-Agarry says extending the two-month-old ceasefire in the Niger Delta was a positive step, but called on the rebel group to embrace the ongoing amnesty deal.

She says some militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the main rebel group, have accepted the amnesty and that the time had come to end the armed struggle in the Niger Delta.

"I believe a lot of members of MEND have accepted the amnesty," said Koripama-Agarry. "Boyloaf, Young Shall Grow ... there are so many of them that have accepted the amnesty. So I do not know who is left in MEND. But maybe at this point I need to appeal to MEND, whoever they are, wherever they are, to give peace a chance."

The militant group declared a 60-day ceasefire in July after the release of Henry Okah, the first senior militant to accept the amnesty offer.

The Nigerian government had offered the militants who claim to be fighting for a greater share of the oil wealth in the Niger Delta a 60-day amnesty that began 42 days ago. But most of the militants question the government's sincerity and are reluctant to come forward and hand over weapons.

Critics say the plan does not address decades-long grievances such as pollution and underdevelopment.

Last weekend, Nigerian Defense Minister Godwin Abbe was in the creeks of the delta for a meeting with key commanders of MEND. Koripama-Agarry says the meeting was crucial in building confidence among the parties.

"The minister of defense led a very high-powered team to see Tom Polo and to see Ateke," she said. "And I think that is a very strong confirmation of government's sincerity with respect to the amnesty itself, and the post amnesty programs that will be put in place."

The amnesty aims to end attacks and abductions in the Niger Delta, where 70 percent of the population survives on less than $1 a day.

Resolving the crisis is a priority for the government. The economy of Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation of 140 million, is almost entirely dependent on oil.

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