June 24, 2009 / 11:30 AM / 10 years ago

Nigeria to propose 60-day amnesty for oil militants

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria’s president will propose a 60-day amnesty programme for militants in the Niger Delta on Thursday, in an effort to end years of attacks on Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry, a senior official said.

Militants show off their firepower at their jungle camp in ther Niger Delta of Nigeria, March 6, 2008. REUTERS/Austin Ekeinde

The government estimates as many as 20,000 militants could participate in the programme, but sceptics question whether an amnesty alone will be enough to halt widespread oil theft, pipeline bombings and kidnappings for ransom.

Militant attacks in the region, where foreign oil firms including Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil and Chevron have operations, have cut Nigerian oil output to less than two thirds of its installed capacity of 3 million barrels per day over the past three years.

“All militants who respond positively to the amnesty proclamation should ... receive presidential pardon and thus become immune to criminal prosecution,” the source close to Nigeria’s Council of State told Reuters on Wednesday.

“Those who thus become free citizens should be fully integrated and rehabilitated at government expense.”

President Umaru Yar’Adua is due to present the proposal to the Council, composed of the country’s 36 state governors as well as former heads of state and chief justices, on Thursday.

Under the plan, the screening of gunmen and collecting of weapons will begin on August 6 at 15 amnesty camps located in Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and other southern states in the Niger Delta, the source said.

DIFFERING OPINIONS

One militant leader, Ateke Tom, has indicated he would consider taking part in the amnesty programme if the military halts its offensive and withdraws its troops from the region, one of his lawyers said this month.

But the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the region’s main militant group, denied on Wednesday local media reports that other militant commanders had accepted taking part in the programme.

“MEND is waiting to hear if President Yar’Adua has anything new to offer in his expected address on Thursday before responding accordingly,” it said in an emailed statement.

MEND, a loose coalition of militant groups, has claimed a series of attacks on oil facilities in the last month and has threatened to continue its “all-out war” against the military.

The source said security forces would remain in the Niger Delta during the amnesty programme to “checkmate illegal oil bunkering and sundry criminal activities”.

Oil bunkering, the theft of industrial quantities of oil, is a major income stream for militants.

The source said Yar’Adua was expected to ask state governments in the Niger Delta, oil companies and international organisations to share the costs of the amnesty programme. It was not clear how much money was needed.

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