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Nigerian Separatist Faces Treason Charge

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Nigerian Separatist Faces Treason Charge

“…protesting militants had taken over at least four oil flow stations run by Shell, the main producer in a country that is the world’s eighth largest oil exporter and the fifth main supplier to the United States. Shell would neither confirm nor deny facilities had been seized.”: “In 1995, writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists from his Ogoni tribe were executed under the brutal regime of then dictator Gen. Sani Abacha. They were hanged for the murder of four political rivals, but Saro-Wiwa’s supporters say he was really targeted because he led protests against environmental damage by Shell.”

Posted Friday 23 Sept 2005

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — A separatist militia leader whose arrest set off tense protests in Nigeria’s oil heartland will be charged with treason, a capital offense, police said Thursday.

Wearing a blue robe, Moujahid Dokubo-Asari appeared briefly before a court in the capital, Abuja, where a judge ordered he remain detained for two weeks before formal charges are brought.

”This is the highest form of dictatorship in the land,” he told journalists outside the courtroom afterward before being whisked away in a police van.

Dokubo-Asari’s southern militia group, the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, warned Wednesday it would kidnap foreign oil workers and attack oil facilities if he was not released. Protests followed Dokubo-Asari’s arrest on Tuesday, bringing the oil city of Port Harcourt — where he is based — to a standstill.

An aide to Dokubo-Asari said Thursday that protesting militants had taken over at least four oil flow stations run by Shell, the main producer in a country that is the world’s eighth largest oil exporter and the fifth main supplier to the United States. Shell would neither confirm nor deny facilities had been seized.

Dokubo-Asari says his Ijaw ethnic group and the other people of the Niger delta should break away from Nigeria and take control of the billions of dollars of oil flowing from their land.

Police said Dokubo-Asari was arrested because he had called for the breakup of Nigeria in an interview published in Nigeria’s Daily Independent newspaper. His lawyer, Uche Okwukwu, was also arrested after going to Abuja to secure his release, said an attorney now representing both of them, Ariku Donalds.

Police spokesman Haz Iwendi in the capital, Abuja, said Dokubo-Asari was being taken to court Thursday by the Ministry of Justice on treason charges.

Hundreds of police reinforcements were sent to the delta after Dokubo-Asari’s supporters threatened to start blowing up oil facilities in the oil-rich Niger delta Wednesday afternoon. That deadline passed without incident, although groups of militants armed with machetes and assault rifles demonstrated in Port Harcourt.

On Thursday, Dokubo-Asari’s group said it was meeting again to take ”a very firm line of action.”

Shell has advised its staff working at its Port Harcourt office to go home. Officials of the Anglo-Dutch company said field operations around Port Harcourt had been suspended because of security concerns. Several of Shell’s flow stations can be left to run automatically, so output has not been affected, said a Shell official.

Threats on oil facilities have been made before in the Niger delta, and not always carried out.

Last year, threats by Dokubo-Asari to attack the oil industry helped send world oil prices to then-record levels. A peace deal averted violence and Dokubo-Asari agreed to a disarmament deal, handing in hundreds of weapons in exchange for cash.

Disputes over oil have been causing bloodshed for years in Nigeria.

In 1995, writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists from his Ogoni tribe were executed under the brutal regime of then dictator Gen. Sani Abacha. They were hanged for the murder of four political rivals, but Saro-Wiwa’s supporters say he was really targeted because he led protests against environmental damage by Shell.

In 2003, an ethnic revolt shut down 40 percent of Nigeria’s oil output and killed at least 200. The following year, fighting involving the army and rival militias — including Dokubo-Asari’s supporters — killed hundreds.

Associated Press writer Christian Ogodo in Abuja, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

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