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Top Rebel Takes Nigeria's Amnesty Offer

A top commander with Nigeria's main rebel group in the oil-rich Niger Delta has accepted the government's amnesty offer and turned over his weapons.

The militant, Ebikabowei Victor Ben, is a top leader for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta or MEND.

President Umaru Yar'Adua offered amnesty to militants who lay down their weapons and renounce violence after a rebel campaign against the oil industry caused a sharp drop in production levels.

The commander and scores of rebels under his leadership turned in hundreds of rifles and guns, rocket launchers and gunboats during a ceremony in Yenagoa in Bayelsa state Saturday.

The 60-day amnesty plan continues through October 4.

There are an estimated 10,000 rebels in the Niger Delta region. Many have been reluctant to come forward because of widespread doubt the government will deliver on its promise to grant amnesty.

Government officials say oil production has started rising since the amnesty deal was announced in June.

The militants say they are fighting for a more equitable distribution of the region's oil wealth. The government says they are criminals.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.