June 4, 2009 / 5:03 PM / 9 years ago

Nigeria to unveil amnesty programme for militants

By Felix Onuah

ABUJA, June 4 (Reuters) - Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua said on Thursday he would unveil an amnesty programme for gunmen in the Niger Delta within two weeks, viewed as a key step to bringing stability to Africa's biggest oil and gas industry.

"I urge all militants in the region to take advantage of this offer, and lay down their arms and cease all acts of disobedience to law and order," Yar'Adua said after receiving a report on the amnesty from Interior Minister Godwin Abbe.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), responsible for attacks that have cut the OPEC member's oil output by one-fifth in three years, said last week it would consider only a "well-defined" amnesty negotiated by both sides. MEND, however, has played no role in drafting the programme.

MEND is also more reluctant to lay down its weapons after the military launched its biggest offensive in the region in years last month, bombarding militant camps from the air and sea and sending three battalions of soldiers to hunt rebels down.

The militant group has declared an "all-out war" against the military and bombed a Chevron (CVX.N) pipeline last week that has cut output by 100,000 barrels per day. But fighting between the two sides has subsided in the past week.

A federal committee responsible for drafting the amnesty plan submitted its final report to Yar'Adua earlier on Thursday.

"Within the next two weeks, the government will come out with a policy statement on the exact condition and mechanisms for the grant of this amnesty," Yar'Adua said

Yar'Adua set up the federal committee a month ago, shortly after announcing he was ready to grant amnesty to gunmen in the Niger Delta if they agreed to lay down their weapons.

"We are convinced that our recommendations will provide a comprehensive framework for dealing with the matters of disarmament, demobilisation and re-orientation and integration of the militants," said Abbe, chairman of the committee that consisted of only government officials. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/ ) (Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Tume Ahemba)

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