Nigeria renews amnesty offer
Abuja - Nigeria President Umaru Yar'Adua on Friday renewed his offer for amnesty to militants in the Niger Delta, two weeks after the military launched its biggest offensive in years.
Yar'Adua initially said in April he was ready to grant amnesty to gunmen in the Niger Delta if they agreed to lay down their weapons, but the main militant group dismissed the offer as mere words.
"Our offer of amnesty to militants in the region who lay down their arms remains on the table," the president said in a speech commemorating Nigeria's Democracy Day.
"I urge them to avail themselves of this offer and join hands with us and their peaceful and law-abiding compatriots to develop the Niger Delta for the benefit of its people."
Yar'Adua's offer comes during a five-day lull in fighting between the military and militants.
The military began its latest campaign on May 15, bombarding militant camps around Warri in Delta state from the air and sea and sending three battalions of soldiers to hunt down rebels believed to have fled into surrounding communities.
It said it could no longer "fold its hands" after attacks on soldiers, pipeline bombings and the hijacking of oil vessels, all of which have prevented Nigeria from reaching its full oil production potential in recent years.
In response, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) has declared an "all-out war" against the military and bombed a Chevron pipeline on Sunday, forcing the shutdown of 100 000 barrels per day.
The militants say they are fighting for a fairer share of the natural resources in the Niger Delta, but criminal gangs involved in the industrial-scale theft of crude oil and kidnapping for ransom are profiting from the insecurity.