Nigeria Militant Group Urges Unity Among Delta Factions

LAGOS Dec 17, 2007 (AP via Dow Jones Newswires)

Nigeria's main militant group Monday urged all armed factions in the restive southern oil heartland to join and cripple Africa's biggest petroleum industry.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, which has spurned a government peace initiative and ended an earlier-announced ceasefire, also hailed moves by another militant faction to abandon peace talks with the government.

Government officials weren't immediately available for comment.

"We call on all genuine militant groups to unite and cripple the oil industry in Nigeria once and for all and stand strong to face a common enemy," the group said in a statement e-mailed to reporters. "The time has come for all breakaway factions to come together and wage war of a different kind in 2008."

Bombings and attacks since early 2006 by MEND have already trimmed about one quarter of Nigeria's estimated 2.5 million barrels a day crude production.

The group announced a unilateral cease-fire shortly after the May 29 inauguration of new President Umaru Yar'Adua, but later called off the truce. Yar'Adua's government has made some efforts to reach out to militants, but a broad conference focused on peace and development for the Niger Delta has yet to materialize.

MEND said it wasn't part of the ongoing peace efforts, which representatives of ethnic Ijaw fighters said over the weekend they were quitting after several military operation in the Niger Delta, where the crude is pumped in Africa's biggest producer. Violence is rising again in the region after MEND ended its truce, although nowhere near the levels seen before April elections, when gunbattles of attacks on oil-industry workers were nearly daily occurrences.

MEND, which claims to be represent all the region's ethnic groups, lauded the weekend withdrawal of the ethnic Ijaw group.

Militancy in the Niger Delta is characterized by shifting alliances and criminal and political activity can sometimes be hard to separate. Much of the militants' activities is believed to be funded by the black-market sale of stolen crude oil, or gunrunning.

A top MEND leader was arrested in Angola in recent months on illegal arms dealing charges.

The militants are trying to force the federal government to send more of the oil funds it controls to the Niger Delta region, whose people are deeply impoverished. Large amounts of oil revenues have been stolen by the region's leaders, many of whom are believed to have links to the militants. The militants are also suspected of helping politicians rig elections.

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