Nigeria rebels vow more attacks after 'warning strike' on oil pipeline
Nigeria’s fragile Oct. 25 cease-fire with militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta region has come dangerously close to a violent end, as rebels took credit this weekend for an attack on an oil pipeline.
Nigeria’s fragile truce with rebels in the oil-rich Niger Delta region has come dangerously close to a violent end, as rebels took credit this weekend for an attack on an oil pipeline some 30 miles west of Port Harcourt.Skip to next paragraph
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The rebel group Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said that the attack was “a warning strike,” carried out by five speedboats full of armed men, and was intended to send a signal to the government of hospitalized President Umaru Yar’Adua to renew its efforts at engaging the rebels in peace talks. The talks were suspended after Mr. Yar’Adua left suddenly for emergency medical treatment in Saudi Arabia nearly a month ago.
The important benefits of the truce were shown last month, when the Nigerian government announced its highest ever output of crude oil. A return to unrest, a MEND rebel spokesman told the Monitor, would be devastating.
“This is the quiet before the storm,” says a MEND spokesman calling himself Tom, in an interview with the Monitor last week. “MEND wants to do the right thing, that’s why they met with the president.”
Rebels feeling 'frustrated'
But in the weeks since the president’s departure, government negotiations have halted, and rebels are getting “frustrated,” Tom says. “It’s going to be more ferocious. What we expected was the government to utilize the time to address the issue of resources. But they are playing politics with our health. In the past, you would attack a platform and take one or two hostages. This time, you will evacuate the platform completely of its personnel, and burn the platform completely. And for four or five years after that, there is no hope for that platform to produce.”
Nigeria’s brief respite from a decade or more of insurgency in the Niger Delta was the personal initiative of Yar’Adua, who offered rebels amnesty from prosecution if they agreed to disarm and reintegrate into society. A collection of rebel groups took Yar’Adua at his word, and disarmed, but have become disillusioned at the slow progress and government’s inability to actually follow through on promises to provide job training and other methods of helping the rebels return to civilian life.
MEND, which announced a cease-fire but did not disarm, has stopped short of returning to full militant operations, but appears close to making that decision, unless the Nigerian government follows through on its promised aid and development for the Niger Delta, and negotiations on giving local people “control over the resources.”