News24

Nigeria militants cease fire

2009-10-25 21:26

Abuja - Oil-rich Nigeria's main militant group called an indefinite cease-fire on Sunday to encourage dialogue with the government, the group's spokesperson said.

Jomo Gbomo, spokesperson for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, said the group's shift in position comes after the government "expressed its readiness to engage in serious and meaningful dialogue with every group or individual towards achieving a lasting peace in the Niger Delta".

President Umaru Yar'Adua met with long time Mend leader Henry Okah on October 19.

Gbomo said that after the meeting, Okah had "indicated the willingness of the government to negotiate" with Mend. The group has formed a team to negotiate, Gbomo said.

The attacks from Mend and unrest in the Niger Delta region had cut Nigeria's oil production by about a million barrels a day, allowing Angola to overtake it as Africa's top oil producer.

New amnesty programme

The new cease-fire, which takes effect on Sunday, comes after Nigerian government officials said that more than 8 000 militants, including several top leaders, have taken part in an amnesty programme that began in August and required participants to disarm.

Nigeria's president said the amnesty granted to militants has restored peace to the region.

The militant group declared a 60-day cease-fire on July 15 after the government released Okah, who had accepted the amnesty offer. In mid September the group extended its cease-fire by one month, saying it hoped the truce would help facilitate talks with the government.

Mend called off the cease-fire on October 16, but have not launched attacks.

The militants have been attacking oil installations, kidnapping petroleum company employees and fighting government troops since January 2006. They have said they want the federal government to send more oil industry funds to the southern region that remains poor despite five decades of oil production.

The government has acknowledged the grievances of many in the Niger Delta, but denounces the militants as criminals who steal crude oil from Nigeria's wells and pipelines and profit by selling it overseas.

Okah was freed from jail in July after the nation's attorney general dropped the treason and gun running charges he was facing. Earlier this year, Mend had said Okah was suffering from a kidney ailment and needed urgent medical treatment abroad.