Nigerian amnesty deal with militants unravels
Three weeks into a cease-fire pact, some rebels are turning themselves in. But the main group – MEND – say they'll attack oil facilities on Sept. 15.
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But the delta's main militant group over the weekend dismissed the three-week-old plan as "a charade" and vowed to resume attacks after a cease-fire expires Sept. 15.
The plan, which offered amnesty to any militant who laid down his arms during a 60-day period, began with fanfare three weeks ago, but it now seems unlikely to achieve anything more than a brief respite from the violence.
Experts and activists say the plan doesn't address any of the rebels' key demands: jobs, economic development and a greater share of oil wealth for the delta, where millions live in extreme poverty while Western energy giants and Nigerian politicians pocket billions of dollars annually in oil revenues.
Critics call it a half-hearted measure by a government desperate to shore up a listing industry that's contributed to instability in world energy markets. Nigerian crude exports have fallen by nearly 40 percent from 2006 amid an escalating militant campaign of sabotage, oil siphoning, kidnappings of foreign oil workers and confrontations with security forces.
"It looks like the bottom line is to rein in the violence to allow the oil production and export to continue, and then get back to business as usual," said Nnamdi K. Obasi, a Nigeria-based analyst for the International Crisis Group research agency. "People in the delta say this doesn't respond to their demands."
Off to a good start?
Nigerian officials insist the program is off to "a good start," and media reports over the weekend said that militants turned over hundreds of automatic rifles and rocket-launchers. Several high-profile militia leaders have accepted the pardon, even meeting Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua in a ceremony here in the capital.
Two weeks ago, however, gunmen reportedly tied to the main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, bombed a major oil pipeline belonging to Royal Dutch Shell. The attack signaled that the vast, decentralized militias — with thousands of fighters and countless weapons scattered throughout the delta's mazelike creeks — were unconvinced by the peace plan.
In a statement Saturday, MEND denounced the militants who accepted amnesty and said that it had already replaced at least one key commander.
"Things are actually getting worse," said Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, an analyst with the Eurasia Group, a New York-based risk consultancy. "(The pipeline attack) may indicate that with the deepening organizational disarray of the militias, more random attacks on all classes of energy facilities throughout the delta may be coming."