50 Fighters Of Slain Ex-MEND Commander For Retraining - P.M. News

50 Fighters Of Slain Ex-MEND Commander For Retraining

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Fifty fighters of Soboma George, a former commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) shot dead in Port Harcourt last week have been invited to join a retraining scheme for fighters ready to lay down their arms, an official statement said on Sunday.

Soboma George, a notorious ex-gangster who was accused of helping rig 2007 elections in Nigeria, was shot dead in an ambush in the oil hub Port Harcourt on Tuesday, in an attack that sparked fears of unrest in the area.

The government recently opened a retraining camp for the former militants as part of an amnesty for so-called oil rebels, with the fourth tranche of the scheme to resume on Wednesday.

In a statement, the presidential amnesty committee said it has invited 50 of George’s lieutenants to take part in the vocational and reconversion training, starting next week.

George was a former militant in the main armed group in the oil-rich Niger Delta, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), and the leader of the banned Outlaws group which once terrorised Port Harcourt.

But last year he became one of the more than 20,000 former militants who signed up to the government amnesty granted by late president Umaru Yar’Adua to Niger Delta oil rebels.

About three thousand ex-fighters have so far been retrained under the scheme, in batches, in a camp set up by the government in Obubra, a town in southeastern Cross Rivers State.

Violence in the region between 2006 to 2009 played havoc with Nigeria’s oil production, which dropped from 2.6 million barrels a day to about one million at the peak of the unrest.

But the amnesty has resulted in relative peace in the region, and Nigeria, one of the world’s largest oil exporters, currently produces around 2.1 million barrels daily.

Presidential, legislative and state elections are expected in January.

Meanwhile, MEND on Saturday accused the Nigerian government of shooting dead Soboma George, months after he signed up to an amnesty deal. and amid fears of violence ahead of upcoming polls.

MEND said it believed the government was behind the death of their former commander.

“We have every reason to suspect that the government of Nigeria is behind the assassination,” the group told AFP in an e-mail message, warning of a resumption in hostilities if its demands for the control of oil resources were not met.

“There will not be a resurgence of violence by MEND because of the killing of George. (But) there will be a resumption of hostilities if our demands for the control of our resources is not met,” it said.

Militant groups in the oil-rich region have been campaigning for a fairer share of the revenues derived for locals.

George’s death also sparked concerns over the amnesty, which has been credited with bringing relative peace to the oil-producing Niger Delta after years of attacks and kidnappings.

The leader of the banned Outlaws group which previously terrorised Port Harcourt was among those who accepted the amnesty granted by late president Umaru Yar’Adua for Niger Delta “oil rebels.”

Violence in the region between 2006 to 2009 played havoc with Nigeria’s oil production, which dropped from 2.6 million barrels a day to about one million at the peak of the unrest.

But the amnesty has resulted in relative peace, and Nigeria, one of the world’s largest oil exporters, currently produces around 2.1 million barrels daily.

Police meanwhile said late Friday that no arrests had been made but that officers suspected former gang members of being behind the murder. A post-mortem had been carried out.

“The investigation has led to three suspected persons,” Rivers State police spokeswoman Rita Abbey said.

Rivers State Police Commissioner Suleiman Abba alleged that the leader of a splinter militant group and some of his aides were responsible for the killing.

“A splinter group known as the Icelanders, led by Pere, a notorious armed robber and kidnapper, allegedly masterminded the killing of George,” Abba told reporters.

He said a member of the gang had on several occasions issued death threats against George.

He gave the suspects 48 hours to turn themselves in for questioning, or be declared wanted for murder.

A less known militant group in the region, the Niger Delta Liberation Force (NDLF), condemned George’s murder and said that the killing had intensified its doubts about the amnesty programme.

“This (murder) is coming at a time when some of us were still apprehensive of the federal government amnesty policy, of government sincerity about our future and the people of Niger Delta,” it said in a statement.