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Nigerian Prosecutors Say Detained Rebel Leader Has Been Charged, Is in Good Health


Supporters of a detained rebel leader say Nigerian prosecutors have denied the prisoner access to his lawyer. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports the leader of a Niger Delta militant group, Henry Okah, has been charged with treason and could face the death penalty.

Public Prosecution Director Salihu Aliyu says since December a string of charges have been filed against Henry Okah, the detained rebel leader from the oil producing Niger Delta. He says the charges range from treason to gun-running, and the militant could be sentenced to death if convicted.

"There is already a valid charge against him. He has been charged on the 12th of December, 2007. The issue is, when will [he] be arraigned? That is subject to the powers of the court. There is terrorism, there is treason, there is unlawful possession of firearms, there is illegal importation of firearms and others. The maximum [sentence] if it is treason is the death penalty," said Aliyu.

Okah was deported from Angola to Nigeria last month, and uncertainty over his fate has prompted anger among members of his group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.

The group alleges he has been tortured, and insists his lawyer be given access to him. State prosecutor Aliyu says Okah is in good health and is being well taken care of.

"There is no torture. In fact, if you see him, I think he is looking better today than when he was brought to Nigeria. I do know he is eating food of the caliber of a five-star hotel, he has excellent facilities to sleep in, he has television. In fact, he has more facilities than I have in my house," added Aliyu.

Analysts warn Okah's trial could trigger a new round of violence in the Niger Delta and thwart current efforts at peace talks.

MEND is one of many armed groups which have attacked the oil industry in the Niger Delta to press demands for a more equitable distribution of oil wealth.

Since the beginning of 2006, attacks by militants have cut Nigeria's oil production by 25 percent.

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