niger REBEL boss held

THE leader of a Nigerian militant group in the oil rich Niger Delta has been arrested, a separate rebel movement announced yesterday.

Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who heads the Niger Delta People's Volunteers Force (NDPVF), was arrested on Tuesday night at the international airport in Lagos, said an e-mail from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).

Local media said Dokubo-Asari was arrested on arrival from Germany, where he had gone for a medical check-up.

The reported arrest, which has yet to be confirmed by Nigerian authorities, came on the day the government met militants from the oil-producing states of the Delta to make an amnesty offer for fighters who cease hostilities in the south of the country.

MEND "condemns the arrest of Asari-Dokubo by security agents at the Murtala Mohammed airport in Lagos and requests for his unconditional release within the next 24 hours," said the e-mail sent to the media.

Dokubo-Asari was charged with treason under former president Olusegun Obasanjo for allegedly leading violent anti-government campaigns, but the charges were later withdrawn as part of a planned political solution to the Delta strife.

Attacks by both the NDVPF and MEND, which has become the most active group targeting oil installations in the Niger Delta, played a part in driving world oil prices to record levels and forced a severe cutback in production.

President Umaru Yar'Adua is this week expected to formally proclaim an amnesty for the militants who surrender their arms and embrace peace. - Sapa-AFP