Nigerian Militant Group MEND Vows New Oil Attacks

Niger Delta
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LONDON, (Dow Jones Newswires), Aug 09, 2007 (Dow Jones Commodities News)

The main Nigerian militant group behind a wave of attacks on energy facilities and abductions of foreign oil workers vowed Thursday to renew attacks on oil pipelines in coming weeks and said it had still not held talks with the country's new government.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, hasn't launched any assaults on energy facilities in three months as it said it would give Nigeria's new government time to come up with a plan to address the deep-rooted poverty and social problems in the country's Niger Delta, where most of Nigeria's oil is produced.

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua, who took over in May after disputed elections, pledged to give top priority to addressing the Delta's long-festering problems.

"We will resume our attacks at the end of this month with greater ferocity," MEND said in an e-mail response to Dow Jones Newswires, without elaborating. "Before then however, we will give the oil industry a reminder of some sort."

"We are not in talks with the Nigerian government," said the group through its representative who goes by the pseudonym Jomo Gbomo and who communicates with the media by e-mail.

MEND also pledged to continue its long-running tactic of abducting foreign oil workers in Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer and a big source of crude for U.S. and European markets. "We will never stop hostage taking until we achieve our goal," Gbomo said. More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped since late 2005 by MEND and other militant groups and also by criminal gangs since late 2005.

Nearly all of the workers, most of whom are employees or contractors working for companies like Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA), have been later released for ransom payments.

While Nigeria's new government is holding conciliation talks with a number of militant groups, the absence of talks with MEND signals the group is as poised as ever to launch the type of attacks it has launched the past 20 months against pipelines and other infrastructure that have sharply cut Nigeria's oil production and exports.

Around 600,000 barrels a day, or 24%, of Nigeria's estimated effective production capacity of 2.5 million barrels a day is currently shut in the country, according to Dow Jones Newswires estimates, although companies have managed to resume incremental amounts of output and exports in the past month or so.

Yar'Adua has made goodwill gestures since taking office to placate some of the Delta's disparate militant groups, including freeing two jailed leaders of the Ijaw ethnic group, the Delta's main ethnic group to which MEND is affiliated.

Several groups have recently started talks with the government to address militant demands, similar to MEND's demands, for more local control over the Delta's oil.

Local thugs and crime have also added to violence in the Delta over the past two years.

In a sign of the internecine conflict within the Delta, MEND's Gbomo said the group had broken ranks several weeks ago with Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, an ethnic Ijaw leader whom MEND had only recently been demanding be released from prison.

Asari, who was put in jail in late 2005 on treason charges, was released from prison by the new government in June and then took up negotiations with the Yar'Adua government. He also called on his group, the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force, to lay down their arms. These moves by Asari caused MEND's rupture with him, Gbomo said.

The rift underscores that even if the government manages to achieve peace with some groups in the Delta, other groups like MEND are likely to continue to foment violence against the country's energy sector in their effort to gain more control of oil resources.

Copyright (c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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