Nigerian rebel leaders give up arms in amnesty deal

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria (Reuters) – Hundreds of  Nigerian rebel fighters gave up their weapons and accepted an  amnesty deal yesterday in the most concerted effort yet to end  years of fighting in the oil-producing Niger Delta.

Militant commanders Ateke Tom and Farah Dagogo, both  responsible for years of attacks on the oil industry in the  eastern Niger Delta, led gunmen from camps in the mangrove  creeks to the oil hub of Port Harcourt to disarm.

Government Tompolo, the final prominent militant, meanwhile  signed an amnesty agreement in the capital Abuja after meeting  with President Umaru Yar’Adua. His followers, the main rebel  faction in the western delta, are expected to disarm today.

“Now the stage is set for the post-amnesty period,” Yar’Adua  said after the signing ceremony. “Government will now meet with  all the militants and leaders to have their input into the  rehabilitation and reorientation programme.”

Unrest in the Niger Delta has prevented Nigeria, the world’s  eighth biggest oil exporter, from pumping much above two-thirds  of its production capacity.

It also costs the country $1 billion a month in lost  revenues, according to the central bank, and has frequently  helped to push up global energy prices.

“I urge others who are yet to do so to also disarm,” Tom  said at his disarmament ceremony, held in a dilapidated  amusement park called “Tourist Beach”.

“I believe Yar’Adua is sincere. He wants to develop the  Niger Delta, so let’s give him a chance,” he said, after his  fighters handed over rocket launchers, grenades, heavy machine  guns, automatic rifles and barrels of ammunition.

The amnesty offer expires at midnight tonight.
Hundreds of Tom’s supporters paraded in convoys through Port  Harcourt after the ceremony, riding on cars, chanting and  slugging from bottles of whisky and Ogogoro, locally brewed gin.

“It is not proper for us to be in the bush. We cannot enjoy  our lives. So I am happy today,” said Wisdom Aziza, who said he  had fought in the creeks for four years.

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