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Nigeria offers amnesty to militants in oil delta

The Nigerian President, Umaru Yar'Adua, proposed 60 days of "amnesty and unconditional pardon" for militants in the Niger Delta yesterday in an effort to end years of attacks on Africa's biggest oil and gas industry.

The government estimates that up to 20,000 militants could take part in the scheme but sceptics question whether an amnesty alone will be enough to halt widespread oil thefts, pipeline bombings and kidnappings for ransom.

Attacks in the region, where foreign oil companies include Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil and Chevron, have cut Nigeria's oil output to less than two-thirds of its capacity of three million barrels a day over the past three years. Screening of gunmen and collecting of weapons will begin on 6 August at 15 amnesty camps.

One militant leader, Ateke Tom, has said he would consider taking part in the programme if the military halts its offensive.