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Page last updated at 11:30 GMT, Wednesday, 17 June 2009 12:30 UK

Nigeria oil militant 'to disarm'

Ateke Tom
Ateke Tom says he is a freedom fighter, not an armed robber

One of Nigeria's militant leaders says he is ready to lay down his weapons, following the government's offer of an amnesty in the Niger Delta oil region.

Ateke Tom said his group would disarm as long as the government was sincere.

President Umaru Yar'Adua has welcomed Mr Tom's statement and said full details of the offer would be published within a week.

However, the main militant group has rejected the amnesty. Insecurity has cut Nigeria's oil output by some 25%.

The military is currently pursuing a major offensive against the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), which has forced thousands of people to flee their homes.

Controversial

"If the government is sincere, we are ready to lay down our arms," Mr Tom told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

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"If the government is not sincere, we will not lay down our arms and the struggle will continue."

President Yar'Adua first made the offer of an amnesty several weeks ago.

"It will be a great pleasure for me to personally accept the first militant leader to take advantage of the amnesty," he said.

"We have no other interest than the interest of the Nigerian people to live in peace."

The amnesty is controversial - one state governor is opposed to an amnesty for Mr Tom, calling him an armed robber.

Militant groups in the Niger Delta have flourished amid a lack of governance and rule of law.

They claim to be fighting to help local people benefit from the region's oil wealth but fund their activities with oil theft, extortion and kidnapping.

The military's Joint Task Force, charged with bringing security to the Delta, has been accused of brutality and corruption.



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