Nigeria's foreign minister voiced hope Wednesday that an amnesty for militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta would bring peace within the year as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered US assistance.
Nigeria last week started implementing an amnesty offered by President Umaru Yar'Adua to armed groups in the Niger Delta, where attacks have battered crude production and cost the developing country billions of dollars in lost revenue.
Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe, appearing at a joint news conference with Clinton, said the amnesty was a "bold and imaginative" way to end the unrest in which hundreds of oil workers have been kidnapped.
"The president is very optimistic ... that by the end of the year with the political traction that the amnesty is generating, the response should be able to bring about a restoration of peace and a sharp reduction in violence," Maduekwe said.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the region's main armed group, says it is fighting for a larger share of oil revenue for the region's impoverished local communities.
Maduekwe said the amnesty was already boosting the oil industry in Nigeria, which was recently surpassed by Angola as the top oil producer in Africa.
"With just the mere perception that peace is coming back, the oil levels are gradually coming up again," he said.
He did not give figures.
Clinton welcomed the amnesty by Nigeria, which remains the top African oil supplier to the United States.
The amnesty runs from August 6 to October 4.
Nigeria's efforts "we think are very promising to try to bring peace and stability to the Niger Delta."
She said she also met with Nigeria's defence minister, who made "specific suggestions" on how the United States can help end the unrest in the Niger Delta.
Clinton said that no decisions were made but that the US and Nigerian militaries would hold talks to "determine what Nigeria would want from us for help."
But she said the United States would only play a supporting role, stressing: "We know this is an internal matter. We know that this is up to the Nigerian people and government to resolve."
Clinton, who arrived in Nigeria late Tuesday, is scheduled to meet Yar'Adua Wednesday afternoon.