THE European Union, EU,would consider providing  financial aid to Nigerian government programmes aimed at rehabilitating thousands of former gunmen in the oil-producing Niger Delta, a top EU official said on Friday.

Up to 15,000 gunmen have surrendered their weapons since June and accepted President Umaru Yar’Adua’s amnesty programme, one of the most serious attempts yet to stem unrest which has wrought havoc on Africa’s biggest oil and gas sector for years.

“What I gather from the success of the amnesty is that the project is taking shape and what is now needed is to show the peace dividends – development, infrastructure, training and jobs,” Stefano Manservisi, the EU’s director general for aid and development, told Reuters in Abuja.

Analysts say former fighters – hardened by years of living by the gun – will need to be quickly retrained and guaranteed a source of income if new militant leaders are not to emerge and use them to resume attacks on the oil industry.

Government agencies have only received 960 million naira ($6.5 million) out of the 10.14 billion naira earmarked by parliament for the entire amnesty programme. Manservisi said the EU is close to finalising its five-year development aid package, worth 677 million euros, for Nigeria and that some of the money could be used to help fund the rehabilitation and reintegration programmes.

“We have a component (in our aid package), which is 190 million euros, to address the needs linked to the Niger Delta,” he said.

But Manservisi said the EU has not received a formal request from Africa’s most populous country for help in the amnesty programmes.

Nigerian officials said they would seek financial support from foreign and domestic oil companies since their industry would directly benefit from peace in the region. But oil firms say they have yet to receive such requests.

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