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Top Nigerian militant lays down arms

About 1,000 fighters take advantage of an amnesty that officials hope

August 23, 2009|Associated Press

YENAGOA, NIGERIA — A top militant leader and 1,000 fighters surrendered to the Nigerian government Saturday, turning in their weapons in the biggest capitulation since an amnesty began two weeks ago. But other fighters said attacks in the oil-rich Niger River Delta will resume next month regardless.

The unrest has cut Nigeria's oil production by a million barrels a day, allowing Angola to overtake it as the continent's top producer. Officials hope the amnesty will allow them to increase production.

But commanders in two of the delta's three main states have not surrendered and government control of the thousands of waterways remains tenuous. Major attacks in the delta can make oil prices jump by more than a dollar a barrel.

Ebikabowei Victor Ben, the state commander for the region's biggest armed group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, and 25 commanders under his leadership delivered weapons to police overnight. Ben is better known as Gen. Boyloaf.

"We don't fight for money, we fight for development," he said, adding that if the government fails this time, "the next generation to come will do things more bloody than we have."

The militants formally handed over their weapons in torrential rains to police and officials in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa state.

Commanders entered the park one by one, surrounded by hundreds of cheering, dancing supporters. Some waved banners or wore T-shirts with pictures of their leaders.

Two of the 16 speedboats reportedly handed over were on display beside boxes and buckets of bullets, more than 50 machine guns, 13 rocket launchers, explosives and rifles.

In a speech, Ben apologized to families that lost members in the struggle. "We have kept to our word to follow the part of peace," he said. "The government should on its own part keep to the bargain of promises made."

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