By NBF News

United States Government on Wednesday restated its call for the conduct of free and fair elections in 2011.

Speaking with journalists in Lagos and Abuja through a monitored telephone conference call from Washington DC, US Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs, Mr. William Fitzgerald, also said that the amnesty programme of the Federal Government in the Niger Delta had helped to reduce criminal activities in the oil-rich region.

Fitzgerald, who responded to questions on the development of the Niger Delta, peace-keeping and the conduct of the 2011 elections, said the US was optimistic that the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, would conduct a credible poll.

According to Fitzgerald, 'Both the North and the South have Muslims and Christians; the US position remains that there should be free, fair and transparent elections in 2011, unlike the conduct of the 2007 elections which left much to be desired.'

He said officials of the US government officials had held meetings with the leadership of INEC, on the need to ensure credible elections in 2011.

While expressing optimism that Jega would conduct free and fair elections in 2011, Fitzgerald stressed that his home government was in touch with INEC, to ensure that things were put in proper perspective.

'We recently met with the leadership of INEC to discuss issues on where the elections were going.

'We also discussed important things that need to happen before the elections are conducted. We now have a man of integrity who is capable of conducting the poll.

'We also understand that the election date has been fixed for January; we are in touch with INEC.

'We share many of the sentiments of Jega; he is an independent fellow that cannot force to do just anything,' he said.

Commenting on the amnesty programme for ex-militants in the Niger Delta, Fitzgerald noted that the initiative should be sustained by subsequent administrations in the country, to ensure the development of the region.

He emphasised that indications from recent meetings with stakeholders and some governors from the region showed that criminal activities had reduced drastically in the region, adding that before now, the area was plagued by security problems.

Fitzgerald said that one of the decisions taken during the meetings was that the region would be opened up for development, adding that it was for that reason that the US government increased its commitment on the development of the region to $100m for 2010, as against $90m committed in 2009.

He, however, stressed that in order to increase the pace of development, there should be absolute peace in the region so that US officials could open direct discussions with the communities.