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Nigeria Launches Disarmament Program - 2004-05-23

Nigeria has launched a program to encourage people to give up weapons that have been used in the recent fighting between Christians and Muslims in the central state of Plateau. The government declared a state of emergency in the state earlier this week. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo is offering money and amnesty in exchange for the illegal weapons being used in, what he calls, the mutual genocide that has been taking place in Plateau state for years.

The interim administrator of Plateau state, former General Chris Ali, is heading the initiative. President Obasanjo appointed him earlier this week to replace the elected governor.

The cash incentives range from $150 for anyone offering information on hidden weapons to $770 to people handing in rifles. In addition, people handing in weapons before the June 7 deadline will not be prosecuted.

Presidential spokeswoman Remi Oyo says it is a chance for the state to start over and end the years of terror, in which an estimated 10,000 people were killed.

"The administrator will be able to get to the bottom of this," she said. "Disarm those who are armed. Punish those who deserve to be punished. But what is important is that Plateau, which used to enjoy peace and stability and it is a beautiful, beautiful state and it was a haven for the colonialists when they were here, so there is a chance again for the people to get that."

Many of the guns and other weapons in Nigeria are believed to have come in from other West African nations such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, where decades of civil war have ended.

The state of emergency declared Tuesday for Plateau state has brought mixed opinions in Africa's most populous nation. Many Christians are angered that the governor of Plateau was replaced, while in neighboring Kano state, where there was also violence, the governor only received a warning. But President Obasanjo has said the incident in Kano, in which 40 Christians died, was only a response to what had happened earlier in Plateau, where both Christians and Muslims launched attacks.

Still, the presidential spokeswoman, Ms. Oyo, says the governor of Kano state will also be held accountable.

"The president wrote a tough and strongly-worded letter to the governor of Kano and he also said categorically in the broadcast he made Tuesday that enough was enough and that state governors would be held responsible for the things that happened within their territory," she said.

The state of emergency President Obasanjo declared in Plateau state last week is the first in Nigeria since military rule ended in 1999.