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By Felix Onuah
ABUJA (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell has offered to provide training and financial assistance to some former Nigerian rebels who recently accepted the government's amnesty, the presidency said on Thursday.
President Umaru Yar'Adua met Shell's Chief Executive Officer Peter Voser in Nigeria's capital Abuja to discuss the situation in the oil-producing Niger Delta, which has seen a lull in violence in the last few months.
Oil and gas production has begun to return after thousands of militants and criminals surrendered their weapons as part of Yar'Adua's amnesty programme, which aims to educate and reintegrate them.
"Mr. Voser congratulated President Yar'Adua on the success of the amnesty and said the company was planning to hold workshops to train former militants on how to form and run businesses," said Musa Aduwak, spokesman for the president.
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.
Shell, which is the biggest foreign energy company operating in Nigeria, will also use its small and medium enterprise fund to assist the former rebels in setting up businesses, he added.
It was not clear how much money Shell will make available to the amnesty participants.
Government agencies have only received 960 million naira (3.9 million pounds) out of the 10.14 billion naira earmarked by parliament for the entire amnesty programme.
Nigerian officials have said foreign and domestic oil companies should also help pay for the rehabilitation of the former gunmen since their industry would directly benefit from peace in the region.
Shell, whose joint venture with state-run oil firm NNPC accounts for more than 40 percent of the country's total production, is the first foreign oil firm to publicly offer assistance.
The European Union has also indicated it would consider providing financial aid if Nigeria asked.
Yar'Adua this month offered to allocate 10 percent of Nigeria's oil joint ventures to Niger Delta residents, potentially providing them with hundreds of millions of dollars each year in cash benefits.
Details of the initiative still need to be worked out in parliament, where political support for the bill is unclear.
(Writing by Randy Fabi)

Reuters