MEND LEADER RELEASED


Nigerian rebel leader Henry Okah was released from jail on Monday after the government withdrew its case against him, a federal court judge said.

President Umaru Yar’Adua agreed to drop felony charges against Okah, who is the suspected leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), after the militant accepted the government’s “unconditional” amnesty.

“Having reviewed what the attorney general said, you have become a free man at this moment. You are now discharged,” Judge Mohammed Liman told Okah at a hearing in the central city of Jos.

One of Okah’s lawyers confirmed his client had been freed and would travel to the capital Abuja later on Monday.

“We are relieved this has finally happened after more than a year,” the lawyer said

Okah was arrested in Angola in September 2007 and extradited to Nigeria to face charges carrying a possible death penalty. His deteriorating health has been an increasing concern, with his lawyers saying he needs urgent treatment overseas.

The rebel leader is the first senior militant to participate in the federal amnesty programme, which Yar’Adua created last month in hopes of halting the unrest in the Niger Delta.

Some rebels have said they would lay down their arms after Okah’s release, but analysts believe the violence will not subside.

MEND said earlier on Monday it had attacked a key loading dock for oil tankers in Lagos state, the first such assault in the area since the group began its latest campaign of violence against Africa’s biggest oil producer.

SOURCED FROM REUTERS

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