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Nigeria militants step up oil attacks

One year after President Umaru Yar' Adua took power, vowing to bring stability to the oil-rich Niger Delta region, observers say little progress has been made.

By Sarah SimpsonCorrespondent / May 28, 2008

Niger Delta: Traders and villagers unload at the busy Bille Jetty in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Waterfront areas are regular flash points for violence as gunmen move by boat.

Sarah Simpson

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Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Militants in Africa's top oil producer are marking President Umaru Yar'Adua's first full year in power with fresh pipeline bombings, underscoring the difficulties that civilian rulers have had calming strife linked to Nigeria's notoriously weak and corrupt democratic system.

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The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta's (MEND) latest attack – a nighttime bombing on a Royal Dutch Shell PLC operated pipeline – helped push global oil prices to $133 per barrel.

That explosion, the latest of nearly half a dozen in recent weeks, has raised fears of widening attacks on other oil facilities in Nigeria, the 4th-largest supplier of oil to the United States.

"This attack has passed a strong message to the government," said MEND in an e-mail to the Christian Science Monitor, "since the attack was dedicated to their failure" to bring stability and equality to the oil-rich but dirt-poor Niger Delta region.

Since their formation just over two years ago, MEND has repeatedly attacked oil infrastructure and kidnapped foreign oil workers, cutting Nigeria's crude exports by as much as 25 percent and helping push global oil prices to new highs.

The media-savvy group says it is fighting on behalf of the people of the Niger Delta for greater local control of Nigeria's crude export earnings, but most observers now say such militant groups are more interested in criminal extortion, competing – and sometime colluding – with government officials at all levels for personal profit.

"What is really new here is the element of criminality that has come into the struggle of the Niger Delta," says human rights activist Anyakwee Nsirimovu, based in Nigeria's oil capital Port Harcourt. "You can hardly hear anybody talking about the core issues of the delta, like underdevelopment, bad governance, and all that."

One year later, scant progress

When he took office one year ago, Yar'Adua promised to urgently tackle the crisis in the delta.

In a statement released this week, he said that "the Administration has reached an advanced stage in the discussions with political and community leaders, as well as the militants, in the efforts to find a lasting solution," adding that "the issue of criminality and bunkering has to be separated from the genuine political agitation."

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