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A rebel Nigerian warlord who shook the OPEC nation's oil industry with threats of "all-out war" on the state, said on Thursday he had started handing over weapons to the government in return for cash.
PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, Oct 28 (Reuters) - A rebel Nigerian warlord who shook the OPEC nation's oil industry with threats of "all-out war" on the state, said on Thursday he had started handing over weapons to the government in return for cash.
Mujahid Dokubo-Asari said the handover had begun earlier this week through a disarmament committee set up after peace talks were called at the end of September to diffuse a growing crisis in the oil producing Niger Delta.
"We've started turning in AK-47 rifles and machine guns. So far we've handed in 196 rifles and two general purpose machine guns," he said.
"We do not get our weapons for free so we cannot just give them away like that, so we have been getting the true value for them," he added, without disclosing the amount.
Asari's Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (NDPVF) fought sporadically with troops and rival militiamen over the last year in the vast wetlands of the eastern delta, but fighting intensified last month when the government sent in thousands of troops to attack his bases.
The NDPVF says it is fighting for the rights of the delta's dominant Ijaw people who live mostly in poverty despite the huge oil wealth pumped from their tribal lands.
The rebel group ordered foreign oil workers to leave the delta last month, before signing a ceasefire a week later, pushing crude prices to record highs above $50.
Asari has previously said he would agree to disarm his forces only if the government completed a full-scale troop withdrawal from the entire delta, but has now begun disarming before the pull-out is completed.
"This is an ongoing process, nobody said that this process would happen in one night," he said.
Talks between Asari and the government to address a wide range of issues including greater self-determination and resource control for Ijaws, and chieftancy and local political disputes, are expected to resume this week.
Oil companies feared Asari's insurgency could spread to the western delta, where a separate Ijaw uprising last year forced multinationals to briefly shut 40 percent of Nigeria's output.
So far his struggle has limited itself to Rivers state, where Asari is embroiled in a political tussle for power with his former ally, the Rivers state governor Peter Odili, who he accuses of rigging elections in 2003.
Odili said he was hopeful the disarmament could move the peace process forward.
"We believe that this is a sure way of laying a solid foundation for peace. Government and the people will be appreciative of this peaceful gesture towards the return of total peace, normalcy and calm to the entire Niger Delta region" said Odili who is chairman of the disarmament committee that received 188 guns in a formal ceremony in Port Harcourt.
Rivers state officials did not want to comment on whether Asari was paid for handing over weapons.
Last week, Ateke Tom, a rival Ijaw warlord backed by senior political figures in the Rivers state government, and a signatory to the ceasefire, also handed over weapons to the government. (additional reporting by Dino Mahtani)
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