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Militant leader arrested in Nigeria

The leader of a Nigerian militant group in the oil-rich Niger Delta has been arrested, lawyers and a separate rebel movement announced on Wednesday.

Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who heads the Niger Delta People’s Volunteers Force (NDPVF) was arrested on Tuesday night at the international airport in Lagos, said a lawyer and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend).

Asari’s firm of lawyers, Festus Keyamo Chambers in Lagos, confirmed the arrest.

”Alhaji Dokubo-Asari was arrested last night at the airport,” a senior official of the chambers told Agence France-Presse, refusing to give details.

He said details would be released in a statement later on Wednesday.

Several local dailies said Asari was arrested on arrival from Germany where he had gone for a medical check-up.

The reported arrest, which has yet to be confirmed by Nigerian authorities, came the day the government met with militants from the oil-producing states of the Delta to make an amnesty offer for fighters who cease hostilities in the south of the country.

Mend ”condemns the arrest of Asari-Dokubo by security agents at the Murtala Mohammed airport in Lagos and requests for his unconditional release within the next 24 hours,” said an email sent on Wednesday to media.

Asari was in 2005 charged with treason under former president Olusegun Obasanjo for allegedly leading violent anti-government campaigns, but those charges were later withdrawn as part of a planned political solution to the Delta strife.

But since his release from prison in June 2007, Asari has maintained a low public profile, occasionally condemning violence and kidnappings for ransom by some armed gangs in the volatile region, whom he accused of deviating from the core objective of the struggle.

The militants in the Niger Delta say they are waging a struggle for a fairer share of oil wealth to go to the region’s locals.

Attacks by both the NDVPF and Mend, which has become the most active group targetting oil installations in the Niger Delta, played a part in driving world oil prices to record levels and forced a severe cutback in production.

Analysts say that Asari changed the Niger Delta struggle from a largely peaceful campaign for environmental and economic change to one using brazen violence against oil companies and government targets.

On Tuesday senior Nigerian officials held talks with representatives of the militants ahead of an possible amnesty for the rebels.

President Umaru Yar’Adua is this week expected to formally proclaim an amnesty for the militants who surrender their arms and embrace peace. — Sapa-AFP

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