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Nigerian Amnesty Boosting Oil Production

Nigeria says the amnesty it is offering to rebels in the oil-rich Niger Delta is boosting production of crude oil that had been hurt by violence. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the issue with Nigerian officials.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe says President Umara Yar'Adua is very optimistic that peace will be fully restored in the oil-rich Niger Delta by the end of the year.

The Yar'Adua government has offered an amnesty to rebels in the Niger Delta who have been attacking oil platforms and taking hostages for years. Maduekwe says that amnesty is boosting oil production.

"Already it is coming up," Maduekwe said. "It is improving. Just the mere perception that peace is coming back, amnesty is working, the oil levels are gradually coming up again."

Maduekwe spoke to reporters following a meeting with Secretary of State Clinton, who says Nigerian defense officials have made "very promising" specific suggestions about how the U.S. military can help bring peace and stability to the Niger Delta.

"We will through our joint efforts through our bi-national commission mechanism determine what Nigeria would want from us for help," Clinton said. "Because we know this is an internal matter, we know this is up to the Nigerian people and their government to resolve, and then look to see how we would offer that assistance."

Mrs. Clinton says the Obama administration understands the importance of stability in a country that is Africa's largest contributor of peacekeeping forces, its biggest oil producer, and the largest recipient of American direct private-sector investment in Sub-Saharan Africa.

"So given all that, it is critical for the people of Nigeria, first and foremost, but indeed for the United States, that Nigeria succeeds in fulfilling its promise," Clinton said.

Nigeria is America's fifth-largest supplier of oil. The International Energy Agency says Nigeria crude production fell to a 20-year low last month as a result of both technical problems and violence in the Niger Delta, including an attack on a Chevron pipeline.

Militants in the Delta say they are fighting against a government in Abuja that has not done enough to address the environmental degradation of oil production and has not equitably shared revenues that come from the region's oil.

Foreign Minister Maduekwe says amnesty is a way for the government to start anew to address those issues.

"There is an issue of justice, an issue of environmental degradation," Maduekwe said. "These are historic injustices that have taken place over time. Whether some of those who carried arms did it our of genuine desire for the welfare of the people or did it, as we know from evidence, out of pure personal criminal profiting, there was need for us to reset. And let's start all over again."

He says the amnesty offered by President Yar'Adua is a leap of faith.

"We clearly understood that there was need to be bold and imaginative in dealing with that," Maduekwe said. "Old methods were not going to be good enough."

Not all the Delta rebels have accepted the offer. Daphne Wysham is on the board of the U.S.-based Institute for Policy Studies. She says amnesty is one step, but does not acknowledge the government's role in the violence.

"It does not offer a counter-assumption of also any sort of obligation on the part of the government to seek forgiveness for its role in the conflict that is ongoing there," Wysham said.

The latest International Energy Agency report on Nigeria says amnesty may not end the violence because few rebel leaders have entered into direct negotiations with the government, and the offer of cash payments falls short of demands for the redistribution of oil revenue.