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Nigerian Rebels Face Pressure to Embrace Amnesty

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A key field commander from the oil-rich Niger Delta, Ateke Tom, has accepted an amnesty offer, handing the government a huge boost ahead of the October 4 deadline for militants to embrace peace.

The government says it expects the two remaining key rebel commanders, Farah Dagogo and Tom Polo, to disarm before Sunday's deadline for militants to hand over their weapons and renounce violence.

Officials say militants who give up their weapons would benefit from a rehabilitation program, including educational and training opportunities. Up to 10,000 militants in the troubled Niger Delta could benefit from the amnesty aimed at ending attacks which had crippled the country's oil production.

The main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, responded by calling a temporary ceasefire and saying it will seek talks with the government.

President Umaru Yar'Adua welcomed Ateke Tom and his team to his Abuja office, and pledged the government's desire for talks with rebels who accept the amnesty.

"We will not say okay you have dropped your arms so go. No, come we will sit. What are the problems that have made you to take arms against your state? These are the problems. Now what do we do to solve the problems?" He asked. "We work out the solutions together with you. Then we go ahead to implement, and you will also participate in implementing the solutions to these problems."

The Niger Delta conflict has simmered for over a decade. Government crackdowns and offers of peace talks have had little effect on the rebellion. The grievances are rooted in deep poverty, environmental degradation and corruption. Many of the delta's people yearn for regular light and clean water.

President Yar'Adua says the government will increase the speed of development in the region.

"In a few years, five or so, you will see the kind of development that will take place," he said.

Nigeria, the eighth-largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, derives more than 90 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from oil.