* Yar’Adua says amnesty offer to militants still on table
* Main militant group rejects offer to lay down weapons
* Five-day lull in fighting in Niger Delta
(Adds reaction from militant group, paragraphs 5-6)
By Felix Onuah
ABUJA, May 29 (Reuters) - Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua renewed on Friday his offer for amnesty to militants in the Niger Delta, two weeks after the military launched its biggest offensive in years, but the rebels said ‘no’.
Yar’Adua initially said in April he was ready to grant amnesty to gunmen in the Niger Delta if they agreed to lay down their weapons, but the main militant group dismissed the offer as mere words. [ID:nL2733295]
“Our offer of amnesty to militants in the region who lay down their arms remains on the table,” the president said in a speech commemorating Nigeria’s Democracy Day.
“I urge them to avail themselves of this offer and join hands with us and their peaceful and law-abiding compatriots to develop the Niger Delta for the benefit of its people.”
But the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) rejected it and said it would only consider a “well-defined” amnesty programme negotiated by both sides.
“The recently renewed amnesty offer by the Nigerian government has been hereby rejected by MEND because it is ambiguous, dictatorial and has not been tested in a test tube,” the militant group said in an e-mailed statement.
Yar’Adua’s offer comes during a five-day lull in fighting between the military and militants.
The military began its latest campaign on May 15, bombarding militant camps around Warri in Delta state from the air and sea and sending three battalions of soldiers to hunt down rebels believed to have fled into surrounding communities.
It said it could no longer “fold its hands” after attacks on soldiers, pipeline bombings and the hijacking of oil vessels, all of which have prevented Nigeria from reaching its full oil production potential in recent years.
In response, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has declared an "all-out war" against the military and bombed a Chevron CVX.N pipeline on Sunday, forcing the shutdown of 100,000 barrels per day.
The militants say they are fighting for a fairer share of the natural resources in the Niger Delta, but criminal gangs involved in the industrial-scale theft of crude oil and kidnapping for ransom are profiting from the insecurity. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/ ) (Additional reporting and writing by Randy Fabi)