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Nigeria's Amnesty Program Makes Slow Progress

A 60-day amnesty deal by the Nigerian government for rebels in the Niger Delta aimed at reducing unrest in the oil-rich region came into effect two weeks ago. Dozens of militants surrendered their weapons in the past 24 hours, but the response is still far below the government's expectation.

Nigerian officials are optimistic that more oil rebels will turn in their weapons this weekend. Some 65 militants from two groups' surrendered 50 Ak-47 rifles and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition to officials handling the disarmament and demobilization program on Thursday.

A few hundred militants have accepted the government's amnesty offer in the past two weeks, but many of the estimated 10,000 rebels have taken a wait-and-see attitude because of widespread doubt about the government's seriousness.

Under a government program, which commenced on August 6, rebels in the Niger Delta were given 60 days to turn in their weapons in return for an amnesty and unconditional pardon.

Analysts say for the amnesty program to succeed, the main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, must take part and publicly endorse the process. The group, which is holding out for a larger agreement, has so far rejected the presidential amnesty.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who was in Nigeria last week, as part of an African tour, endorsed the amnesty plan and urged the Nigerian authorities to commit more resources to developing the Niger Delta.

"The United States supports the process going forward. We think that having a political process is absolutely essential," she said. "We also know that there are many people who are involved in the challenges and difficulties, who know that there must be more development in the Niger Delta. That there has to be a dedicated stream of revenue in order to make up for some of the environmental degradation, and some of the lost jobs and to create a more stable life for the people of the Niger Delta."

Oil production in Nigeria is down by over a million barrels a day, due to incessant militant attacks against Africa's biggest oil and gas industry. The rebel group declared a truce a few weeks ago following the release of one of its leaders.

Nigeria, which relies on oil for 90 percent of its foreign earnings, has seen a drastic decline in national revenue over the past several months.