June 29, 2009 / 9:46 PM / 11 years ago

President orders amnesty for top Nigeria rebel

By Felix Onuah

ABUJA, June 29 (Reuters) - Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua told his interior minister on Monday immediately to meet rebel leader Henry Okah, who is on trial for gun-running and treason, and offer him amnesty.

Yar'Adua offered a 60-day amnesty on Thursday to gunmen in the Niger Delta, including Okah, who have been responsible for pipeline bombings, attacks on oil and gas installations and the kidnappings of industry workers over the past three years.

"The president has directed the chairman of the presidential panel on amnesty, Godwin Abbe, to immediately arrange a meeting with ... Mr. Henry Okah and formally offer him the amnesty," said Yar'Adua spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which has launched a string of attacks against the oil industry this month, has made Okah's release one of its key demands.

The government said Okah, who was arrested in Angola in September 2007 and extradited to Nigeria five months later, would be freed if he took the amnesty offer.

"I wish to state that the offer of amnesty is unconditional and covers Henry Okah who will be released as soon as the federal government concludes its consultations with the governments of Angola and Equatorial Guinea," said Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, spokeswoman for the amnesty committee.

A Nigerian delegation left for Angola and Equatorial Guinea on Saturday to inform the two countries' leaders of the clemency offer.

Officials said the two countries had "problems" with the suspected militant in the past and Nigeria wanted to pay them a courtesy visit before taking action.

(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/ ) (Writing by Randy Fabi, edited by Richard Meares)



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