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Nigerian rebels reinstate ceasefire in Niger Delta


Sun Oct 25, 2009 9:06am EDT

By Randy Fabi

ABUJA, Oct 25 (Reuters) – Nigeria’s main militant group reinstated a ceasefire on Sunday in the oil-producing Niger Delta to allow for peace talks with the government.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), whose attacks have battered Africa’s biggest energy sector in the last three years, said the government expressed a readiness last week to engage in serious talks to address their concerns.

“To encourage the process of dialogue … an indefinite ceasefire has been ordered and takes effect from 0000 hours, Sunday, Oct. 25,” the group said in a statement.

The militant group, which says it is fighting for a fairer share of the region’s wealth, lifted a three-month-old ceasefire this month and threatened to resume its campaign of violence against the OPEC member.

MEND said it softened its stance following last week’s meeting between President Umaru Yar’Adua and former rebel leader Henry Okah, who many believe was MEND’s top commander at one time.

“(Okah) indicated the willingness of the government to negotiate with the MEND Aaron team,” it said.

MEND named a team of negotiators last month that included Nobel Prize-winning writer Wole Soyinka and two retired senior military officers.

Unrest in the Niger Delta has cost Nigeria — which vies with Angola as Africa’s biggest oil producer — $1 billion a month in lost revenues, according to the country’s central bank.

A three-month lull in violence in the region has already helped bring back some oil and gas production.

Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) resumed operations at its Soku gas plant last week, nearly a year after it was forced to shut down because of attacks on its pipelines.

But MEND has been severely weakened since its leaders and thousands of gunmen accepted Yar’Adua’s amnesty offer and disarmed. It is unclear who is running the group.

MEND had said on Wednesday it was mulling reinstating a three-month ceasefire in the heartland of Africa’s oil and gas industry, which expired last week, if the government were willing to begin “serious and sincere” peace talks.[nLL243250]

Yar’Adua this month offered to allocate 10 percent of Nigeria’s oil joint ventures to Niger Delta residents, potentially providing them with hundreds of millions of dollars each year in cash benefits. [ID:nLK711860]

Details of the initiative still need to be worked out in parliament, where political support for the bill is unclear.

Activists and sceptics fear the former militants could easily return to the creeks and resume attacks if the government fails to quickly find them work and a new way of life.

(Editing by Michael Roddy)


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