Will Nigeria's MEND militants honor their own ceasefire?

Just hours after announcing a unilateral 60-day ceasefire with the government, the rebels threatened to end it.

By , Staff writer

Just two days after launching a deadly attack on an oil dock outside Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, gunmen from the oil-rich but poverty-stricken Niger Delta declared a unilateral ceasefire to its "all-out war" against the government.

"Effective, 0000 Hrs, Wednesday, July 15, 2009, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta [MEND] will be observing a temporary ceasefire for a 60 day period," Jomo Gbomo, the group's spokesman said in a statement.

Sunday night's attack on the Atlas Cove jetty, which left three naval officers and two oil workers dead, was the first time that militants from the Niger Delta have raided a target near Lagos - more than 250 miles from their heartland where most attacks take place. It was an escalation of MEND's war with the government of President Umaru Yar'Adua, who came to office in 2007 promising to improve the security situation in the Delta.

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Top leader now free in amnesty deal

Hours after the attack, on Monday, the government freed MEND leader Henry Okah, who was on trial for treason and gun-running. He was released as part of an amnesty offer for militants announced earlier this month as part of a fresh bid to make progress on the crisis in the Delta. Mr. Okah, who is gravely ill, welcomed the offer. But few other militants appear willing to do so.

Mend's other leaders responded to the olive branch by launching an escalated campaign of attacks to maximize their bargaining power. Its name: "Operation Moses."

"The two-pronged approach of combining dialogue and intensifying attacks throughout the course of negotiations will be the unique characteristics of Moses," said MEND in a statement this week.

A backlash in the works?

But some analysts are predicting that MEND's aggressive response to the government's offers may dismay some of its backers. "Surely, MEND risks alienating supporters from its cause with this attack," writes Wale Fatade in the Nigerian online newspaper, Next. "What exactly is the struggle about? To call attention to injustice in the delta or to perpetrate sheer criminality?"

"Also, the nation's security agencies have a lot to answer for with this criminal action," writes Fatade. "How did MEND pull off the attack? Does it mean that other critical installations in Lagos and Abuja are not safe and could be attacked at any moment?"

Yar'Adua's government must be wondering the same things, which may be why he replaced his defense minister Wednesday.

What about the ceasefire?

As for the 60-day ceasefire ... it could be shortlived.

Just hours after announcing the lull in attacks, MEND spokesman Mr. Gbomo threatened to call it off due to information he received that the government was planning a major attack on militants in the Delta. The government denied that an attack was in the works.

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