Nigerian amnesty deal with militants unravels
Three weeks into a cease-fire pact, some rebels are turning themselves in. But the main group – MEND – say they'll attack oil facilities on Sept. 15.
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The Obama administration has a major stake in what happens in turbulent Nigeria, the fifth-largest US oil supplier. Besides the two-decade-long insurgency in the southern delta, where millions live without steady power and clean water despite the staggering oil wealth, Yar'Adua's government is also facing growing dissatisfaction in the Muslim-dominated north ahead of elections scheduled for 2011.Skip to next paragraph
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On her recent visit, Clinton urged Nigerian officials to direct more funds toward jobs and development. But she generally backed the government's amnesty plan and said the US was considering offering military assistance.
Amnesty offer: $430 and job training
The last amnesty offer, in 2004, fell apart after militants squabbled over disarmament payments and found no jobs waiting for them. Last year, government forces launched a major land, sea and air offensive that badly destabilized the militants' camps, but security didn't improve much. In the first nine months of 2008, 1,000 people were killed in the delta and Nigeria lost nearly $24 billion to oil theft and sabotage, according to the International Crisis Group.
After security forces and MEND announced a cease-fire last month, officials introduced the amnesty, which grants immunity from prosecution to any militant who renounces violence before Oct. 4. It also offers ex-fighters up to $430 in food and housing allowances and the chance for education or job training, officials said.
"Nothing can happen in an atmosphere of insecurity and crisis," said the spokeswoman for the amnesty committee, Timiebi Koripamo-Agary. "The amnesty is to start the process of building peace in the region."
The government also freed Henry Okah, a purported MEND leader, in what appeared to be a show of good faith. But Okah, who suffers from kidney ailments and is seeking medical treatment overseas, likely had his own reasons for wanting out.
"The government is trying to deal with individual militant leaders, maybe bribe them to come out," said Anyakwee Nsirimovu, a leading human rights activist in the delta. "If I just pack some weapons, go to one of the centers and say I'm a militant, they accept me and I get my hands on the (disarmament) money. It's not an organized approach."
In December, an expert panel recommended amnesty as part of a comprehensive peace process that included raising the delta's share of oil and gas revenues from 13 percent to 25 percent. Many believe that Nigerian officials, who've reportedly pocketed untold billions of dollars in illegal oil money, are unwilling to pledge more money to the region.
"It shows that this government isn't serious about resolving the real issues," said Youpele Banigo, a member of the panel. "The government is suffering from (the drop in) oil production. So all this is directed to ensure that oil production will flow."
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