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Former Nigerian rebel leader arrested in South Africa

Henry Okah, the former leader of the Nigerian rebel group that claimed responsibility for a car bomb that killed 12 people in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, on Friday, is due in South African court Monday.

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Amnesty program a 'sham'

Mr. Okah himself, who repeatedly said he had left the MEND movement when going into exile, said that he felt the government’s amnesty program with Niger Delta rebels was “a sham.”

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“We want to own our land, we want control of the land and the resources, so we can determine who comes to our land, but instead we have communities that have been forcibly relocated from their land so that oil companies can start operations,” said Mr. Okah, in an exclusive interview with the Monitor. “It challenges all your senses, so you either submit to it or you do something about it.”

Okah due in South African court

South Africa’s arrest of Okah comes after South African police searched Okah’s Johannesburg home on Friday morning, before the bomb blasts, on a tip from Nigeria security services. He was arrested on allegations of taking part in terrorist activities, said Okah’s lawyer Piet du Plessis, who added that Okah denied the charges. He is due in court on Monday.

South Africa is not the only country to give shelter to former or current African rebel leaders.

Former Ethiopian President Mengistu Haile Mariam currently resides in Harare, Zimbabwe. Nigeria sheltered former Liberian President Charles Taylor before buckling in 2006 to international pressure to hand him over to the International Criminal Court at the Hague to face war-crimes charges.

South Africa has given shelter to a number of Rwandan political exiles, including President Kagame’s former army chief Gen. Faustin Nyamwasa, who survived an assassination attempt in Johannesburg last May.

South Africa’s cooperation with Nigerian police is not unprecedented, but it is also not common.

In the spirit of non-interference in one another’s domestic politics, most African countries refuse to arrest or extradite the political gadflies, opposition leaders, or former rebel fighters of other African countries, if those individuals abide by the laws of their adopted country.

In this, the Nigerian handover of Liberian president Charles Taylor is the striking exception. It remains to be seen whether there will be enough evidence against Mr. Okah to add him to this rather short list.

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