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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.

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Nigerian government officials say the government is putting all its energy behind the peace process, but the Niger Delta rebels need to be patient.

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“The Niger Delta is key to the president’s agenda, the amnesty progress is very successful, and the supplemental budget for development in the Niger Delta region has been passed,” says Bolaji Adebiyi, President Yar’Adua’s personal advisor. Some $2.6 billion worth of road projects, and $670 million in power projects have been approved for the Niger Delta region, and many are ongoing. “It’s not fair to say there is no progress,” Mr. Adebiyi says. “There are processes that have to be followed.”

Patience tested

Yet the oil pipeline attack Friday night shows that patience is running thin.

A spokesman for MEND confirmed that the group had organized the attack on an oil pipeline near the Niger Delta town of Abonemma.

Pat Utomi, a former presidential candidate and a negotiator in the Niger Delta peace process, says that losing momentum now means losing a crucial opportunity for peace.

“Several of the groups in the Niger Delta were beginning to be exhausted by the process of fighting, and the economic cost for the Niger Delta issue was too much, because production was shut down,” says Mr. Utomi.

But in the absence of the president, the amnesty program has stalled, Utomi said. “With him in bad shape, you wonder, how is the process going to be sustained?”

“As people of the Niger Delta, we felt very strongly that we need to give all the support to any process that could bring peace, and to give an opportunity to see if the Niger Delta can be resolved,” says Annkio Briggs, a human rights activist and founder of the Agape Birthrights, a non-governmental organization working in the Delta. “We can’t afford for the country to come to a standstill.”

Why is MEND attacking the Niger Delta?

MEND, for its part, says that a standstill is not an option.

“We got into this process because the oil companies were destroying our environment, our livelihoods, our health,” says Tom, the MEND rebel. Attacking oil platforms will hurt the environment more, he admits, but the attacks are necessary for the people of the Delta to get control of what they regard as their own resources.

“When the Americans attacked Berlin to get Hitler, they didn’t do it with kit gloves,” says Tom. “They had to destroy Berlin in order to build a new Berlin.”