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Nigeria sets up panel to study amnesty for Islamists: source

Friday April 5 2013

By AFP

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday formed a panel to look at the possibility of offering an amnesty deal to Islamist insurgents who have killed hundreds, a presidency source said.

Jonathan has come under intense pressure over the issue, with politicians from the country's violence-torn north as well as Nigeria's highest Muslim spiritual figure, the Sultan of Sokoto, calling for an amnesty deal.

Such government panels have previously led to little or no action in Nigeria, with their reports often quickly cast aside.

The panel is to "consider the feasibility or otherwise of granting pardon to the Boko Haram adherents," the source told AFP on condition of anonymity after the president met with the country's security chiefs.

Violence linked to Islamist extremist group Boko Haram's insurgency has left some 3,000 people dead in northern and central Nigeria since 2009, including killings by the security forces.

The group also claimed the February 19 kidnapping of a French family of seven over the border in Cameroon. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

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According to the source, the panel will draw its membership from the country's National Security Council, which includes the president, vice president, security officials and others.

It will be expected to "recommend modalities for the granting of the pardon should such a step become the logical one to take under the prevailing circumstance," the source said.

The source said the committee is expected to submit its report to the president within two weeks.

Boko Haram has claimed to be fighting for an Islamic state in Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer.

Its demands have however repeatedly shifted and it is believed to include various factions in addition to imitators.

Nigeria offered an amnesty to militants in the oil-producing Niger Delta region in the south in 2009 credited with greatly reducing unrest there, though oil theft has since flourished.

Underlying issues of poverty and unemployment also remain, with analysts predicting a possible return to unrest in the future.

Nigeria is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.