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Move over Boko Haram, Nigeria's MEND rebels set to restart oil war in Niger Delta

Leaders of Nigeria's MEND rebel group – and other militia commanders in the oil-rich Niger Delta – say they're ready to launch fresh attacks after two years of relative quiet following a 2009 amnesty.

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The amnesty brought about a decrease in kidnappings and attacks against foreign workers and oil installations. This year, these attacks are again becoming common.

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According to interviews with two MEND generals – one who uses the alias TK and one who calls himself Eybele – this uptick in violence is planned.

Both say that while other groups might operate under the name, the core of MEND has developed a sophisticated organizational structure in recent years and is again capable of kidnappings and complex quick-strike bombings and attacks.

They say dissatisfaction with government efforts to improve the Delta, and frustration over Jonathan's focus on Boko Haram, will lead to an increase in MEND activity.

TK and Eybele say there are four MEND generals. Each general has approximately 400 "boys," or soldiers, under his command, making the full MEND fighting force about 1,600. Both say they were former students and activists who turned to militancy when the Delta's problems were ignored.

Their independent descriptions of MEND's organization corroborate each other.

The generals say they answer to a man called Tomonu. It is unclear if they are referring to MEND's Gen. Godswill Tomunu, who has not been heard from since a BBC interview in 2006.

Meeting in an alleyway

I met with TK in an alley of a waterfront slum. Eybele, the more polished and soft-spoken of the two, met me in the bedroom of one of his fighter's homes in a shantytown farther inland. Both decry the government's lack of progress toward improving infrastructure in the Delta and say that violence was the only way to bring attention to unacceptable living conditions.

"We want to live in an environment with good schools for our young ones, good piped-in water, good infrastructure," TK says. "We're living in shambles."

"The government promises and fails you," he continues. "If there's no revolution, this place will not be a better place."

Eybele stresses that renewed attacks against oil companies would be collateral damage in a war against the government, which he says did not live up to commitments made during amnesty negotiations.

"We survive through armed struggle," Eybele says. "Most of our boys need something meaningful, but they don't have it. The government is celebrating 51 years of independence while we have nothing. What are we celebrating for?"

"If the oil companies and the government can collaborate and give 50,000 jobs to [the] indigenous [people] so we can partake in the sharing of the system, it would go a long way to assist our people," he says.

An unassuming militant leader

Later that day, I met with Blessing Dumo, a young commander in the NDPVF, next to a pool in one of Port Harcourt's walled-in expatriate communities. When he approached the table I thought he was just a college student – indeed, he is studying computer science at a university in Port Harcourt. His arguments are grounded in political principles and he speaks with the conviction of an activist.

Mr. Dumo says the number of soldiers in the NDPVF is in the thousands. He shares many of the same complaints as TK and Eybele, but his anger is focused on the amnesty, which he calls a failure.

"We are not criminals and we're not taking amnesty," Dumo says. He joined the NDPVF to fight for indigenous rights, he says. "We accept the peace of the amnesty, but we're not taking the cash. I don't want to be paid, but I want the Niger Delta to get employed."

He reserves particular anger toward Royal Dutch Shell, which was forced to shut down a major pipeline here after it was bombed Oct. 6. Dumo neither confirms nor denies NDPVF's involvement in the attack.

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