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Niger Delta peace process ‘dead’ as militants target Shell facility

Daily Telegraph: Militants bent on sabotage of Nigeria’s oilfields have declared a return to conflict amid a power vacuum left by the two-month absence of the country’s ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua.

By Mike Pflanz, West Africa Correspondent
Published: 7:48PM GMT 01 Feb 2010

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) called off its ceasefire just hours before an attack on three fuel pumping stations operated by Royal Dutch Shell.

The company confirmed on Monday it was forced to partially shut down production following the sabotage assault on the facilities, in the south-eastern Bayelsa state.

A Mend spokesman denied that the group was behind the raid, but added that it was likely carried out by an allied proxy militia.

“Mend was not directly responsible,” the group said.

“It was certainly a response to our order to resume hostilities by one of the various freelance groups we endorse.”

Shell would not say how much of its production has been affected, but a spokesman said that efforts to contain the oil spill following the sabotage attack were underway.

Mend on Saturday cancelled a ceasefire called in October last year to allow for peace talks with the government to take place.

But soon after that ceasefire President Umaru Yar’Adua left the country suddenly to seek medical treatment for a heart condition in a Saudi Arabian hospital.

He has not been seen since, and speculation is sweeping Africa’s most populous country that he is no longer fit to govern.

A constitutional crisis has flared in his absence as he failed to hand over power to his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan.

Much of the business of government has ground to a halt, and the Niger Delta peace process appears to be a key victim of the impasse.

“It is sufficiently clear at this point in time that the government of Nigeria has no intentions of considering the demands made by this group for the control of the resources and land of the Niger Delta to be reverted to the rightful owners, the people of the Niger Delta,” Mend said.

Years of sabotage attacks against oil production in the Niger Delta have left the country losing more than £650 million a month due to shut-downs.

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