(Reuters) - Hundreds of fighters loyal to two Nigerian rebel leaders surrendered their weapons and accepted amnesty on Saturday after years of fighting in the oil-producing Niger Delta.
Militant commanders Ateke Tom and Farah Dagogo, whose fighters have mounted many of the attacks on the oil industry in the eastern Niger Delta, led gunmen from their camps in the mangrove creeks of the Niger Delta to the oil hub of Port Harcourt where they handed over their arms.
With their disarmament, Government Tompolo is the last known militant commander with links to rebel group MEND that has yet to accept amnesty.
The unconditional pardon offered by President Umaru Yar‘Adua to militants who give up weapons by Sunday is the most serious attempt yet to resolve years of unrest which has prevented Nigeria from pumping more than two thirds of its oil capacity.
Here are some details on the three men.
A major gang leader in Rivers State in the eastern Niger Delta for around a decade, Ateke Tom set up the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV), one of several groups to enjoy strong backing from politicians who used them to help rig elections.
The NDV was involved in some of the heaviest clashes in years in the oil hub of Port Harcourt in July and August 2007, when more than 100 people died in fighting with a rival gang involving automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.
Tom has largely operated independently of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the umbrella militant group in the region, but his faction claimed at least two attacks against the oil industry last year.
Security sources say he is also heavily involved in oil bunkering, a lucrative trade in industrial quantities of stolen crude smuggled onto the international market.
Also based in Rivers state, Dagogo started out as a top commander loyal to former militant leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, whose Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force turned over thousands of weapons in return for amnesty in 2004.
Dagogo then set up camp on his own before becoming one of the founding field commanders of MEND, which knocked out a quarter of Nigerian oil output when it burst onto the scene with a series of attacks in early 2006.
Dagogo is loyal to Henry Okah, the suspected leader of MEND who was on trial for gun-running and treason before being released in July after accepting Yar‘Adua’s amnesty offer.
Full name Government Ekpemupolo, he was one of the leaders of the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC), based in the western city of Warri and responsible for shutting down a large chunk of oil output from the western delta in 2003.
Tompolo is believed to have been key to drawing together the factions which went on to form MEND.
He is responsible in particular for attacks on Chevron and thought to be a major oil bunkerer. Security forces used helicopters and gunboats to attack his camps around Warri, capital of Delta state, in May this year.
Tompolo last week took out a full-page newspaper advert detailing demands including a military withdrawal.
Sources: International Crisis Group, public statements by Mujahid Asari-Dokubo, security sources
Writing by Nick Tattersall