Nigerian Villagers Agree to Vacate Seized Shell Platforms

LAGOS Oct 25, 2006 (AP)

Angry villagers in Nigeria who took over three Royal Shell PLC (RDSA) oil platforms in the volatile Niger Delta have agreed to end their siege and allow operations to resume, Nigerian and company officials said Thursday.

But they were still at the stations by day's end.

Members of the Kula community living near Shell's Ekulama 1, Ekulama 2 and Belema oil pumping stations invaded the facilities Wednesday, accusing the oil giant of failing to meet the terms of an agreement to provide them aid, Shell said.

The Rivers State government in charge of the area intervened and persuaded the protesters to leave the installations, government spokesman Emmanuel Okah said.

Shell officials also confirmed an agreement was reached with the protesters to quit the facilities.

"The agreement is that it will be done today (Thursday) and we plan to reopen the facilities immediately," a Shell official said.

The protesters remained at the installations Thursday, however, saying they were waiting for Shell to offer a written commitment to provide jobs in the area, community spokesman Dan Opusinji said.

"In light of the intervention of the Rivers government and the response of Shell to our demands, we're ready to give them the chance to resume," Opusinji said. "But we want to sign an undertaking with Shell (that) the promises will be met."

Shell officials declined to comment on the details of the agreement, but said they expected the protesters to leave the occupied installations.

No hostages were seized by the protesters during the takeover.

Another oil company, Chevron Corp. (CVX), said it had shut its nearby Robertkiri installation Wednesday as a precaution, after the protesters took over the Shell installations.

Despite sitting atop much of Nigeria's oil reserves, the inhabitants of the southern oil region remain among the most impoverished in the country. With little or no influence on the government, they frequently turn to oil companies who run joint ventures with the Nigerian state with demands for jobs, schools and electricity.

At a public forum called by the Nigerian government Thursday to address the general situation in the delta, President Olusegun Obasanjo blamed the "cumulative neglect of the past" by successive governments and oil multinationals for the poverty and environmental damage in the region.

"If it is the joint responsibility of all, the solution should also be the joint responsibility of all," Obasanjo said at the meeting, which was broadcast on national radio and television.

Warning that the current armed uprising in the region would be counterproductive, Obasanjo said his government would not be intimidated, rejecting demands that he free a detained delta militia leader, Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who is facing trial for treason.

"Anyone who takes up arms against this country will be dealt with," Obasanjo told the forum, attended by governors and community leaders from the oil region. "The solution is not in taking hostages...not in vandalization, not in carrying guns. The solution is dialogue."

Over the last decade, villagers have often stormed oil facilities to protest against oil companies they believe are taking wealth from their land and giving little back. Most such seizures have ended peacefully.

This year, armed militia groups who claim to be fighting for similar causes have increased attacks on oil installations and seized foreign oil workers as hostages either for ransom or to back demands for more local control of oil wealth.

Attacks by armed militants in Nigeria's oil region have cut more than a quarter of the country's oil exports since the beginning of this year.

Copyright (c) 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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