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Wednesday, 13 November, 2002, 14:26 GMT
Nigerian leader frees Biafran soldiers
Biafran fighter
The separatist war resulted in a million deaths
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has granted an amnesty to 80 soldiers who fought in the Biafran war.

The war, declared in 1967 by the country's third largest ethnic group, the Igbo, was for the independence of part of south-eastern Nigeria. Some one million people were killed.


This pardon wipes out the stigma of dismissal

Segun Osoba, State Governor
Officials said the presidential pardon, announced on 12 November was in the spirit of general reconciliation and to put the sad memory of the war behind Nigeria.

The 80 soldiers to receive the presidential pardon were members of the Nigerian army who crossed over to the Biafran side during the civil war.

The war ended in 1970 with defeat for the secessionists, led by Emeka Ojukwu. The three states that had wanted to leave were re-integrated into the country.

Reconciliation

President Obasanjo's amnesty is being seen by critics as a political move as it comes against the background of calls by Igbo groups for him not to seek re-election in next year's elections.

Captives and soldiers after Biafran war
Igbos are demanding damages for the war

Some Igbo leaders say it is high time an Igbo became president, something they would see as a sign that true reconciliation has been achieved.

Mr Ojuku, who was himself later pardoned, had gone to war following the massacre of Igbos in the north following the coups in the late 1960s.

Those pardoned are mainly from south-eastern Nigeria although not exclusively Igbo. A few of them are still in jail but most are not.

"This pardon wipes out the stigma of dismissal," said state governor Segun Osoba.

Compensation

During last year's Oputa panel which investigated human rights abuses in Nigeria, the main Igbo cultural and political association presented a petition in which it claimed damages for the sufferings of the people of the former Biafra during the war.

It included the pogroms against them in the north of the country which led to Biafra's attempt at secession, the death and destruction during the war itself and what they claimed is the marginalisation of Igbo people in post-civil war Nigeria.

Biafra war
1967: Igbos start separatist war
One million deaths
1970: Biafrans defeated by federal Nigerian forces
Secessionist leader Ojukwu exiled, later pardoned

The association which presented the petition claimed damages of more than $60bn, saying that reparations and appropriate restitution would be a healing balm not just to Igbos but to the whole Nigerian nation.

For many years after the civil war, the defeated former Biafrans nursed their grievances in silence but correspondents say there is now a new assertiveness in south-eastern Nigerian, a new willingness to talk about the war and even to justify the Biafran cause.


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13 Jan 00 | Africa
29 Jan 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
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