Nigeria’s government is offering clemency to oil rebel leader Henry Okah as part of its 60-day amnesty deal for militants in the Niger Delta.

Mr Okah is facing trial on charges of gun-running and treason after being arrested in Angola in 2007.

His release will depend on whether Angola agrees to it, President Umaru Yar’Adua’s spokesman said.

The main militant group in the oil-producing Delta had said it would not disarm unless Mr Okah was freed.

The amnesty move is an effort to end years of attacks on the region’s beleaguered oil industry, which have severely cut output.

Nigeria’s chief of defence staff says the security forces will observe a ceasefire for the 60 days the Niger Delta amnesty is on offer, ending a recent intense offensive in the area.

“But if we are attacked, we will respond,” Air Chief Marshall Paul Dike, Reuters news agency quotes him as saying.

A presidential pardon, rehabilitation programme, education and training are being offered to militants who give up their arms by 4 October.

The militants claim they are fighting for the rights of local people to benefit more from their region’s oil wealth.

But many attacks in the lawless region are undertaken for financial gain.

“Henry Okah will be offered the amnesty after the president has sent the envoy to Angola,” said presidential spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi.

“If [Angola] accepts, he will be released.”

Hours after details of Thursday’s amnesty was made public, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) claimed to have carried out an attack on an oil field run by the Royal Dutch Shell.

Mend, in reality an affiliation of armed groups, said it was responding to a military raid on a village. Neither claim has been independently verified.

But Mend’s acting leader “General” Boyloaf told the BBC he did want peace, although he objected to the use of the word “amnesty”, arguing that the militants were not criminals.

Other militant representatives with Mend links have agreed to disarm if they can meet with the president to iron out some issues, including the release of Mr Okah.

“General” Boyloaf said that if Mr Okah was released within a week, Mend would give up all its arms, keeping “not even a bullet”.

Mr Adeniyi, who was briefing journalists about the amnesty deal on Friday, emphasised that no money would be given in exchange for weapons, but militants would be offered jobs or scholarships at rehabilitation centres being set up across the region.

The BBC’s Abudullahi Kaura in the Niger Delta says later on Friday the inspector general of police is due in Ogoniland, where a militant leader known as “Osama bin Laden” is expected to hand over his weapons.

Militant attacks in the region have reduced oil production to 1.3m barrels per day, officials say. Nigeria’s Opec quota is 2m.



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