Rebel group warns of renewed attacks in 'oil war'

Rebels of The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) say they have ended a 90-day ceasefire and warn oil firms and the military of renewed attacks.


AFP - A rebel group that has wreaked havoc in Nigeria's oil hub on Friday ended a 90-day ceasefire, warning the oil industry and military to brace for fresh and widened attacks.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) which has waged a three-year campaign for a bigger share of the oil wealth for the impoverished local population, said it will take up arms again after it shunned a government amnesty offer.

Its violent attacks have severely cut daily production in the world's eighth largest oil exporter -- by up to a third of pre-2006 levels.

MEND "resumes its hostilities against the Nigerian oil industry, the Nigerian armed forces and its collaborators with effect from 00:00hrs, Friday, October 16, 2009," the group said in a terse statement emailed shortly after midnight.

But the government says many of its fighters, including its overall commander surrendered their arms in a recent amnesty.

MEND ordered a ceasefire in July to allow for possible talks with President Umaru Yar'Adua's government. It set up a committee -- which included 1986 Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka -- to run negotiations, but no formal talks are known to have taken place yet.

The group rejected a government amnesty offer describing it as a "charade", saying it failed to address the key issues of under-development and injustice in the Niger Delta.

The authorities say, however, that more than 8,000 militants accepted the amnesty offer laying down just under 3,000 arms. They estimate that up to 15,000 have taken up the pardon offer which ran from August 6 to October 4.

Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, a spokeswoman for a panel overseeing the amnesty exercise, urged MEND to follow the action of their ex-fellow combatants who have embraced peace.

"I sincerely hope that MEND respects the wish of Nigerians including its former associates to end a chapter of violent struggle and participate in addressing fundamental issues for the healing growth of he Niger Delta and Nigeria," she told AFP.

In the past three years Nigeria's oil output has been cut from 2.6 million barrels a day to 1.7 million currently. It has now been equalled by Angola as Africa's top exporter.

And in the last year, Nigeria has also seen its foreign exchange reserves drop from more than 67 billion dollars to 40 billion.

Hundreds of oil workers, including dozens of foreigners, have been kidnapped by MEND and other groups in the Delta region. It has attacked pipelines and offshore facilities and even Lagos harbour.

Although there is no precise death toll, several hundred fighters and civilians have been killed in the region since 2006.

Despite MEND's rejection of the amnesty, the government says there has been a good response.

Yar'Adua told an OPEC delegation on Wednesday that the amnesty had resulted in a return to peace to the south of the country. The government has faced severe pressure over the conflict because 90 percent of the country's earnings come from oil.

"The general amnesty I extended to all militants in the Niger Delta has led to the laying down of arms and a return of peace. Agitations are now over," he said.

But MEND said in a statement last week that the next phase of its struggle would be the most critical as it planned "to end 50 years of slavery of the people of the Niger Delta by the Nigerian government, a few individuals and the western oil companies once and for all."

It warned that future operations would be more destructive.

"In this next phase, we will burn down all attacked installations and no longer limit our attacks to the destruction of pipelines," it said in the statement.

The US embassy in Nigeria has called for restraint and dialogue to resolve the Niger Delta conflict.

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