INTERVIEW-Most Nigerian rebels take amnesty – ex-militant

Source: Reuters

* Supports decision not to extend amnesty deadline * Dismisses MEND’s criticism that he sold out By Austin Ekeinde YENAGOA, Nigeria, Sept 27 (Reuters) – More than 80 percent of rebels who have disrupted oil operations in Nigeria’s Niger Delta have accepted an amnesty and hardliners will probably do so too, a former rebel commander told Reuters on Sunday. “So far, the amnesty has been a success and it is on course. Over 80 percent of the fighters have come out of the creeks,” former militant leader Ebikabowei Victor Ben, also known as Boyloaf, said. President Umaru Yar’Adua in June offered an unconditional pardon to all gunmen in the Niger Delta to stem unrest which has prevented Nigeria from pumping much above two thirds of its oil capacity, costing it billions of dollars a year in lost revenue. So far the number of rebels giving up their arms has made no noticeable change in oil output. Ben, who in August took the government’s offer of clemency along with his 1,658 followers, said he believed the few remaining rebel hardliners will also disarm before the Oct. 4 amnesty deadline. Presidential adviser Timi Alaibe told Reuters this month that 6,000 gunmen had signed up for the amnesty. [ID:nLF549888] But key militant leaders Ateke Tom and Government Tompolo, who command thousands of gunmen in the region, have yet to surrender. They want the amnesty deadline pushed back to allow for dialogue on a series of demands including a partial military withdrawal. The government has denied their request. Ben, an ex-commander for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), said the rebels didn’t need the extra time and believed they would take the amnesty in the end. “I think that these people are beginning to see the light that it will be to their detriment if they do not disarm,” he said in Bayelsa state’s capital Yenagoa. “I think any person that does not disarm now does not want anything good for the people of the Niger Delta.” Ben, who was the field commander for MEND in Bayelsa state, is one of the most high-profile militants to take clemency. His surrender last month exposed divisions within the militants’ ranks. Some factions were ready to accept the amnesty offer while MEND’s spokesman warned that attacks on oil infrastructure will resume again once a ceasefire ends next month. MEND, responsible for attacks that have wrought havoc on Africa’s biggest energy industry in the last three years, has branded Boyloaf a sell-out. But Ben has dismissed the criticism, saying the militant group was in disarray. “What you see of MEND today is just an individual pushing out those write-ups through the Internet, which is a reflection of the frustration on his own part,” said Ben, who lives in a two-storey duplex in the heavily guarded state government compound in Yenagoa. Hundreds of militants, many claiming to be former Ben loyalists, have protested sporadically over the government’s failure to pay them for handing over their weapons. The rebels, who have blockaded roads and disrupted commerce, have threatened to return to their villages and resume attacks against the oil industry if they are not paid. “Those boys who protested a few days ago did so because they were not paid their stipend. They are not my boys,” he said. Ben denied rumours that he received as much as 2 billion naira ($13 million) from the government for taking the amnesty. “The government never promised nor gave me any money,” he said. (Writing by Randy Fabi; editing by Michael Roddy) (For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: http://af.reuters.com/ )
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