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Nigerian militants threaten chaos in western delta

Reuters

Mon Nov 24, 2008 8:09am ES

By Nick Tattersall

LAGOS, Nov 24 (Reuters) – Nigerian militants threatened to bring chaos to the western Niger Delta by interrupting shipping and attacking oil and gas facilities run by U.S. firm Chevron (CVX.N: QuoteProfileResearchStock Buzz) unless the region’s military commander was removed.

The Ijaw Youth Leaders Forum (IYLF) said it wanted Brigadier General Wuyep Rimtip, commander of the joint military task force in the western delta, who has taken a tougher line on oil-related crime than his predecessor, transferred immediately.

The threat raised the prospect of a new campaign of violence against the oil industry in the western delta, which has been much quieter than the volatile east for several years.

“(Rimtip) has woken the peaceful sleeping dogs of the Niger Delta,” the forum said in an emailed statement.

Security experts say the IYLF is effectively the political wing of a network of militants and activists from the Ijaw community, the predominant ethnic group in the delta.

The IYLF email was signed by two “commanders” describing themselves as spokesmen for “Camp-5”, believed to refer to a camp in Delta state belonging to rebel leader Tom Polo.

“If the commander of the JTF is not changed with immediate effect, we will stop the free flow of boats and vessels in the Delta waterways and make Delta state ungovernable,” it said.

The IYLF also threatened attacks on facilities run by Chevron in Delta state, which include the Escravos crude oil export terminal and the Escravos Gas-to-Liquid (EGTL) project.

“We will take over Chevron Nigeria Ltd and EGTL despite the numerous gunboats and helicopters,” the statement said.

Chevron could not immediately be reached for comment.

 

TOUGHER MILITARY STANCE

Attacks by militants on oil facilities in the Niger Delta, home to Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry, have shut down around a fifth of Nigerian output since early 2006. Nigeria currently pumps around 2 million barrels per day.

The unrest has mostly been in Rivers state in the east, where the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has blown up pipelines and flow stations.

Delta and Bayelsa, the two other main oil-producing states to the west, have been comparatively quiet.

Their state governments have preferred to “settle the boys” — negotiate with the militants and award them security contracts rather than take an overtly military strategy.

But Rimtip appears to be taking a tougher stance.

Security sources say he has replaced several battalions — including one in the Delta city of Warri and one in Bayelsa’s capital Yenegoa — whose soldiers were deemed to have become too close to criminals engaged in a lucrative trade in stolen oil.

His men said last week they had repelled an attack by gunmen in speedboats close to the Escravos export terminal, a raid that Rimtip blamed on oil thieves retaliating for the seizure of a vessel used in the illegal trade.

“You have new troops, almost reinvigorated troops, and reinvigorated leadership flexing its muscles and saying it will not accept any nonsense,” one security source said.

With so much chest beating, it is difficult to assess the real appetite for conflict on either side, the source said.

 

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