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Nigeria Says Amnesty Program Taking Shape


A senior Nigerian military officer in charge of disarmament and demobilization of militants say hundreds of gunmen have accepted the amnesty program and more are close to joining. The program is estimated to cost several millions of dollars.

Air Vice Marshall Lucky Ararile says each fighter who turns himself in during the two-month disarmament and demobilization program will receive a stipend of about $450 per month to cover food and living expenses. Thereafter, they will undergo a re-integration process for an unspecified period of time. Marshall Ararile says up to 10,000 militants in the troubled Niger Delta could benefit from the amnesty.

"We are working something in the region of 10,000 ex-militants," he said. "So if you compute N20,000 Naira [about $140] per month, if you multiply that by 10,000 you will be talking about of billions [of Naira]. Five hundred naira [$10] per day per person [for food], initially for the DD [disarmament and demobilization] program it is for two months. For DD, that is the disarmament and demobilization part of the program will last 60 days. Thereafter, the re-integration program is indeterminate."

A leading militant group in the Niger Delta this week announced a 60-day cease-fire and said it was open to talks with the government. President Umaru Yar'Adua declared an amnesty program for militants in a bid to end attacks that have crippled the country's oil industry.

The amnesty runs from August 6 to October 4 for all those who are prepared to lay down their arms and renounce violence. The government sees the amnesty as the first step in a process to bring peace to the oil-rich region. Air Vice Marshall Ararile says some militants have accepted the amnesty and several more are expected to join.

"A few [militants] have given up their weapons in Akwa Ibom, Rivers state and Warri," he said. "We are in contact with some groups that are ready to surrender- a group claims to have about 350 people."

"We have not completed our discussions with them. Those are the ones I can give you exact figures, but those ones we have discussed with them, we are in contact with, I think the population is even larger than what I have just said," he continued.

Violence in the Niger Delta in the past three and half years has cost Nigeria billions of dollars in revenue. President Yar'Adua has been under pressure since coming into office two years ago to address the instability. The militants say they are fighting for a fairer share of the region's oil wealth, but criminal gangs are profiting from the anarchy.

Analysts predict stability would only return to the oil region when the government addresses long-standing grievances such as pollution, underdevelopment and corruption.

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