/ 26 August 2009

Top Nigerian militant may take amnesty, says minister

A top Nigerian militant has indicated he may accept a government pardon and lay down arms, the defence minister told Reuters on Tuesday, but there was no confirmation from the country’s main rebel group.

Minister Godwin Abbe said Government Tompolo, who was declared wanted dead or alive by the army in May, had expressed an interest to participate in the federal amnesty programme and a meeting could soon take place.

”I am aware he has made his intention known,” said Abbe, who also heads the presidential committee on amnesty.

”It shows that those who really want genuine development in the Niger Delta are embracing the amnesty programme.”

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) and representatives from Tompolo’s militant faction were not immediately available for comment.

The military launched its biggest offensive in the region for years last May against Tompolo and his supporters, destroying a number of his camps.

Tompolo had been involved in negotiations over a possible amnesty with the authorities before the military campaign, security sources said.

The amnesty programme has split militant factions in the region with hundreds of rebels, including dozens of senior leaders, surrendering their weapons to the government.

But Mend, responsible for attacks that have wrought havoc on Africa’s biggest energy industry in the last three years, said on Saturday it had halted amnesty talks and threatened to resume its campaign of violence next month.

Mend, which says it is fighting for a fairer share of the region’s oil wealth, said it considered rebels that take clemency to be sell-outs.

The government has denied giving cash for arms under the amnesty programme. — Reuters