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Delta leaders reject summit

Analysis: Delta leaders reject summit


Nigerian tribal leaders hailing from oil-rich states in the Niger Delta have rejected a proposed summit on the region aimed at ending the violence hampering petroleum production there. 

Heads of several delta ethnic groups said the Nigerian government-proposed meeting would not end the suffering of residents of the region, where militant groups in recent months have ratcheted up attacks on oil installations both on and offshore.

Earlier this week militants attacked an offshore oil rig operated by Royal Dutch Shell, reducing the output for Nigeria’s leading foreign producer by 200,000 barrels per day, a move that led to oil prices reaching yet another record-high this week.

A U.S. national was also taken hostage by militants identifying themselves as members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. The hostage was released a few hours later unharmed, according to local officials.

In April MEND threatened to increase assaults on oil installations in the delta and since has made good on the promise, attacking pipelines and oil rigs.

“They’ve (MEND) always issued their threats (to disrupt oil production), but this time the focus of the attacks are much more specific,” Mark Schroeder, regional director for Sub-Saharan Africa at the Stratfor consulting firm, told United Press International.

Despite violence like Thursday’s attack on Shell, tribal leaders rejected the government’s choice to head up the talks, U.N. Undersecretary for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari.

“It is most unacceptable to our people, as he is not familiar with the Niger Delta terrain and its peculiar problem,” read a statement from the leaders.

Leaders contended the choice of Gambari — instead of someone from their own ranks — illustrated the government’s attempts to marginalize local leaders and prevent them from playing a role in federal regulation of the delta.

However, a well-respected delta advocacy group known as the Coastal Peoples Forum backed the government’s decision to appoint Gambari summit leader, though it condemned the Nigerian government for the impoverished state of the region.

“By allowing Gambari, a Nigerian and member of the United Nations to chair the summit, we are allowing the world to witness our demands,” red a CPF statement, noting the group initially “opposed the summit, but we have reappraised the overall objective and consider it worthwhile to give the federal government the last opportunity to address our problems.”

The dispute over the Gambari appointment is just the latest in a litany of contentions by delta residents who accuse the federal government of neglecting the needs of those who populate the source of Nigeria’s vast oil wealth.

Despite extracting more than $300 billion worth of crude over the last three decades from the southern delta states, the region remains mired in high unemployment.

Coupled with environmental degradation due to oil and gas extraction, and a lack of basic resources such as fresh water and electricity, the perceived negligence by leaders in Abuja has angered the region’s youth, who have taken up arms and formed militant groups and local gangs.

The setbacks recently pushed Nigeria out of the continent’s top position for production, with Angola taking over the lead for the first time ever.

According to a report last week by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Angola’s production levels for the month of April reached 1.87 million barrels per day, while Nigeria’s shrunk to 1.81 million bpd. That’s down from its 2.5 million bpd high just three years ago.

Meanwhile, Angola’s production rose by more than 800,000 bpd during the same period after several new offshore projects came online off the coast of Cabinda province.

http://www.upi.com/Energy_Resources/2008/06/20/Analysis_Delta_leaders_reject_summit/UPI-36931214005804/

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