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Nigeria's acting leader to meet ex-rebel leaders

Nigeria's acting president Goodluck Jonathan attends the 37th ECOWAS Summit in Nigeria's capital Abuja February 16, 2010. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria’s Acting President Goodluck Jonathan will meet former rebel leaders from the oil-producing Niger Delta on Friday, hoping to get a federal amnesty program back on track.

“The meeting is to assure former militants of the commitment of the government to the post-amnesty program and the development of the Niger Delta region,” a presidency source told Reuters on Wednesday.

Little progress has been made in implementing the amnesty program, the most comprehensive peace effort in the Niger Delta for years, since President Umaru Yar’Adua fell seriously ill last November.

Recent militant attacks have threatened to undermine the peace process further and prolong the unrest, which has kept Nigeria from pumping much more than two thirds of its 3 million barrels per day oil capacity.

Jonathan, who took over executive powers last month in Yar’Adua’s absence, has made restoring peace in the Niger Delta a top priority.

The presidency source said Friday’s gathering would be with only key former rebel leaders, but Jonathan would probably hold further meetings.

Hundreds of rebels surrendered their arms last year in return for clemency, a monthly stipend, education and job opportunities. But money and training for the former rebels have been repeatedly delayed.

Earlier this month the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) set off two bombs outside a government building in the oil city of Warri as officials met for talks about implementing the terms of the amnesty.

The attack raised fears of a renewed campaign of violence by Nigeria’s most prominent militant group.

Writing by Randy Fabi; editing by David Stamp