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New amnesty to try to resolve violent protests that have disrupted oil production in Niger Delta area.
The government's reference to working with the United Nations is interesting because in West Africa the U.N. has orchestrated a number of demobilization, disarmament and reintegration programs for former combatants in countries returning to peace after years of civil war. Though Nigeria maintains the instability in the delta is not a war, the government has deployed thousands of special military and police to control the region, which is awash with weapons.
Disarmament programs that ushered in peace in nearby Liberia and Sierra Leone involved payment of up to US $300 for each fighter handing in a gun or similar small arms.
Ekaette declined to say whether militants in Nigeria would be offered similar payments for their weapons, saying the full details of any amnesty are still to be agreed upon.
But the government's approach does not appear to satisfy the fighting groups. In an e-mail to GlobalPost, a spokesperson for the delta’s main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), said the group wants to see the release of their imprisoned leader Henry Okah before considering any amnesty deal.
Okah, arrested and detained at an unknown location since 2007, is accused by the government of smuggling hundreds of thousands of small arms into the delta.
MEND says it is fighting for a greater share of the oil revenue to go to the people of the Niger Delta. The government counters that such armed gangs are purely criminal, sabotaging oil infrastructure to siphon oil from pipelines or extract cash from oil companies.
In the event of a future amnesty agreement, MEND fighters would expect payment for their weapons, said their spokesperson: “Of course the weapons will not be handed [in] free of charge.”
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