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Times Online: Comment: Niger rebels follow up on warnings

July 5, 2007
Jonathan Clayton

On my last visit to the Niger Delta, a few weeks ago, the militants warned that unless the new government took “serious measures” to address their grievances they would bring total chaos to the area.

With the Colombia-style kidnapping of a three-year-old British toddler that threat is now becoming a reality.

Sources in Port Harcourt describe the situation in Nigeria’s oil capital as the worst they have ever known. Militant groups, many under the banner of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), had already succeeded in cutting oil output from the area by around a quarter since they first began hitting oil production some 18 months ago.

They say they want a fairer share-out of the region’s enormous oil revenues and thought they had found a willing ear with the election in April in polls widely condemned as rigged of President Umaru Yar’Adua. But negotiations have floundered, largely over the militants’ demands for transport and security contracts for the region’s oil workers.

The militants, many of whom are backed by local politicians and are simply criminals who have outgrown their godfathers, know the value of their operations. It is said that they play the oil futures’ market to raise money to buy arms. By kidnapping the children of foreign oil workers they are well aware, they can bring the whole area to a standstill. Expatriate workers are frequently kidnapped and then released, but so far their families have been spared.

“They will ransom her, and no doubt they will get paid. They want to send a warning to everyone that they are the real power and no one can afford not to deal with them,” said one human rights activist working in Port Harcourt.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/africa/article2031274.ece 

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