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Nigerian Rebels Withdraw Oil Delta Offensive Threat

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Nigerian Rebels Withdraw Oil Delta Offensive Threat

“The deal was enough to avert an imminent explosion of violence in the oil-producing Niger Delta, a delegate said, but was a long way from resolving all the misgivings of its impoverished inhabitants.”

By REUTERS

Posted 3 October 2004

ABUJA (Reuters) – A rebel Nigerian warlord withdrew a threat to shut oil operations in the world’s seventh largest exporter Friday as part of a peace deal negotiated with the government.

The deal was enough to avert an imminent explosion of violence in the oil-producing Niger Delta, a delegate said, but was a long way from resolving all the misgivings of its impoverished inhabitants.

Warlord Mujahid Dokubo-Asari signed a six-point peace agenda along with a rival warlord pledging to cease hostilities and disarm along with a promise to bring development to the region, a statement released after the three-day talks said.

But Miabiye Kuromiema, secretary-general of the militant group Ijaw Youth Council who was also a signatory to the deal, said more detailed talks were scheduled to start on Oct. 8 to address the thorny issue of chieftancy disputes, and practical implementation of the accord.

“We are looking to take these points forward,” Kuromiema said. “It is not in any way a done deal for the Ijaw people in their totality.”

The statement said the Niger delta warlords agreed not to attack “economic and social interests of Nigeria.”

Asari’s threat to shut down Nigeria’s oil industry had helped drive crude prices to a record high above $50 a barrel on Monday. The pact emerged after the close Friday, when U.S. futures settled at $50.12 a barrel, up 48 cents on the day.

The deal was reached after the government called off gunships and helicopters sent to attack rebel militia.

The rebels had accused the government of violating a truce agreed Wednesday and threatened to blow up a critical natural gas plant if attacked.

The threat to the gas gathering station at Soku, about 30 miles west of Port Harcourt, sent shivers through the petroleum industry because it is the main gas supplier for a multibillion-dollar gas export plant at Bonny Island called Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas.

Nigeria’s top oil producer Royal Dutch Shell Group evacuated 300 workers from three oilfields due to fears of fighting, but Nigeria’s 2.3 million barrels per day of oil output were hardly affected by the crisis.

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The government had branded Asari as a gangster, but his original demands for reform are widely supported in the delta, where more than two thirds of people live in poverty despite the huge mineral riches pumped from their tribal lands.

Some ethnic leaders in the region were not impressed with the deal as it appeared in the statement.

“It doesn’t appear that the government went far enough to meet the demands of the people,” said Ledum Mitee, head of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People.

“The concern here is that there may not be enough in the bag to bring home.”

Asari was not available for comment.

Asari’s Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force has been fighting sporadic gun battles with troops and rival militia since last year in the vast area of mangrove swamps and creeks. Violence escalated last month when the military launched air, land and sea attacks on 10 rebel camps.

The group issued a communique last Monday telling foreigners to leave the delta ahead of an “all-out war on the Nigerian state,” but multinational oil companies largely ignored it, stepping up security instead.

Companies had feared a repeat of last year’s uprising by members of the Ijaw ethnic group, who form a majority in the delta. That rebellion forced them temporarily to shut 40 percent of the country’s output.

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