Sunday, December 20, 2009

Nigerian Militants Attack Oil Pipeline Breaking Truce With Federal Government

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Niger Delta Crisis: MEND Resumes Attacks

Tompolo's Group Not Involved, Says Spokesman

JTF Unable To Confirm Action

From Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt) and Hendrix Oliomogbe (Asaba)
Nigerian Guardian

CITING delayed negotiations with government, due to President Yar'Adua's absence, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) yesterday breached its 56-day ceasefire by attacking a major Shell/Chevron crude pipeline in Abonemma, Rivers State.

The attack is coming on the heels of MEND's complaints that President Yar'Adua's over three weeks absence from the country has stalled the ongoing talks between the government and the group's appointed negotiators, the Aaron Team.

The group's spokesperson, Jomo Gbomo, described the attack, which was launched at about 2am, as a warning strike.

He said five boats involving 35 of MEND's fighters armed with assault rifles, rocket launchers and heavy calibre machine guns, carried out the attack.

The Guardian could not independently confirm the MEND's attack.

A faction of the armed group loyal to repentant militant leader, Government 'Tompolo' Ekpemupolo, said its commanders were not aware of any attacks on oil installations.

In an online statement, Captain Mack Anthony, the spokesman to both 'Tompolo' and his (Anthony's) boss, Togo, said that the group had no hand in the reported attack.

MEND, he insisted, had not decided on any joint attacks in any of the Niger Delta States.

"Although we have our own grievances over how we were treated since we surrendered arms, if there is an attack somewhere, our General Commander, Government 'Tompolo' Ekpemupolo and my boss, Togo, are not aware," he said.

"But don't forget; there could be some pockets of misunderstanding resulting from communal differences against oil companies in the Niger Delta.

"The amnesty is not instrument of continued suppression by soldiers and multi-nationals. MEND is standing by the conditions of the peace deal," he stressed.

Tompolo had embraced Federal Government's amnesty programme, which the mainstream MEND scoffed at as doomed to fail.

Contacted, the Commander of the Joint Task Force (JTF) (Operation Restore Hope), General Sarki-Yarki Bello, said in an SMS that there was "no confirmation yet."

Similarly, spokesman of the JTF, Lt. Col. Timothy Antigha, explained that they were yet to verify any attack as alleged by MEND.

According to him: "There is no verification yet by the JTF that a pipeline has been sabotaged around Abonnema.

"If this unpatriotic act is confirmed to be true, at a time the Federal Government is doing its utmost to consolidate on the gains of the amnesty programme, then the criminals behind the act are enemies of the Niger Delta and, indeed, Nigeria; and they don't deserve any sympathy."

Shell spokesperson, Mr. Precious Okolobo, in an SMS, said: "We don't have reports of our facility being attacked, and cannot comment."

He had earlier told The Guardian on telephone that he did not have details of what might have actually transpired, promising that, "if I confirm, I will get back to you."

An official of Chevron said he had not been able to ascertain the true situation since he was in Houston, United States.

Why We Struck, By Gbomo Jomo

From Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt)

MEND'S mouthpiece, Jomo Gbomo gave reasons why the attack on Shell/Chevron pipelines was carried out yesterday in Abonemma in Rivers State.

According to him, the Federal Government had conveniently tied the advancement of talks on the demands of MEND to President Yar'Adua, who is currently receiving medical attention in far away Saudi Arabia.

However, he noted that the same government "has not tied the repair of pipelines, exploitation of oil and gas as well as the deployment and re-tooling of troops under the aegis of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in the region to the President's ill health."

Gbomo said: "While wishing the President a speedy recovery, a situation where the future of the Niger Delta is tied to the health and well being of one man is unacceptable."

MEND accused the government, through the Bayelsa State governor, Timipre Sylva, the Ministers of Defence, Gen. Godwin Abbe (Rtd) and Ministry of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili of disseminating propaganda aimed at foreign investors, claiming that the situation in the Niger Delta is under control.

This assertion, according to him, is far from the truth.

Gbomo also accused the government of offering bribes to a number of militants, who surrendered their weapons under its amnesty programme in the form of contracts.

He said while the government perceives these individuals to wield some kind of influence in the region, MEND wants to make it abundantly clear that all those who had capitulated were of no significance to the continuation of the struggle.

According to him: "MEND is committed to continue its fight for the restoration of the land and rights of the people of the Niger Delta, which has been stolen for 50 years."

Jomo added that while MEND remains open to dialogue, "the indefinite ceasefire ordered by the group on Sunday, October 25, 2009 will be reviewed within 30 days from today, December 19, 2009."

MEND had last week told The Guardian in an online interview that the absence of the President had made it impossible for the Aaron Team to meet with the government after the first exploratory meeting last month.

He said: "At this point in time, the fragile peace process is hanging on to the thin thread of a ceasefire. Our demands have not been addressed because there is dialogue ongoing.

"We expect that when the President returns or if we find ourselves with another President, the process must continue with the current tempo and enthusiasm or else peace talks may collapse and the unrest will resume."

Nigeria militants in oil attack

Armed men in the Niger delta of Nigeria say they have attacked an oil pipeline overnight, putting a two-month truce with the government in doubt.

A faction of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said it attacked the pipeline.

A spokesman said it was because the government was delaying peace talks due to the absence of ill President Umaru Yar'Adua, who is in Saudi Arabia.

Attacks have cost Nigeria millions in lost revenue over the years.

The faction said, in an e-mailed statement, that the "warning strike" was carried out by 35 men on five boats with assault rifles, rocket launchers and heavy-calibre machine guns.

It said the pipeline was in Abonemma, about 50km (30 miles) west of Port Harcourt.

Nigeria's military has not commented on the attack.

Peace talks were suspended when President Yar'Adua was hospitalised in late November in Saudi Arabia.

Mend said it would review the ceasefire within 30 days.

"While the Nigerian government has conveniently tied the advancement of talks on the demands of this group to a sick president, it has not tied the repair of pipelines, exploitation of oil and gas as well as the deployment and re-tooling of troops in the region to the president's ill health," it said.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/12/19 10:53:44 GMT

Nigeria in crisis as delta militants claim 'warning attack' on pipeline

Militants say President Umaru Yar'Adua's absence in Saudi Arabia is being used to delay oil wealth reforms

Claims by Nigerian militants that they staged an attack on an oil installation, breaching a five-month ceasefire, have deepened fears that the country is on the verge of a constitutional crisis.

Nigeria, which in 1999 ended a 40-year era of military dictatorship, is in the midst of a power vacuum in the absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua, who has been in hospital in Saudi Arabia for more than three weeks.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) claimed that its fighters, armed with rocket launchers and machine-guns, had carried out a "warning strike" against a pipeline at Abonemma in Rivers state. There was no independent confirmation of the attack. Mend said it struck because the government was using Yar'Adua's absence to stall negotiations promised as part of an amnesty programme. The group said it would review an indefinite ceasefire it offered on 25 October.

The densely populated Niger delta has been the scene of conflict for 20 years, amid calls from its ethnic groups for a greater share of vast oil earnings. The most celebrated victim of the government's clampdown against the minorities was author Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed with eight other Ogoni activists in 1995.

If confirmed, Friday night's attack would be a major blow to peace efforts by Yar'Adua's administration, which in July pledged to spend millions of pounds developing the region and offered host communities a 10% share in all oil and gas operations.

The proposal convinced thousands of activists to accept a presidential amnesty, which ended in October. But the plan is politically unpopular and has raised eyebrows among oil multinationals because it demands a huge programme of reform and a major audit of the delta's oil wealth.

Nevertheless, multinationals admit that, since the amnesty offer and ceasefire, production had increased. Mend attacks over the past three years have prevented Nigeria from extracting more than two thirds of its capacity.

A Mend statement yesterday suggested that the group believed the government was using the president's illness as a stalling tactic. "While the government has conveniently tied the advancement of talks on the demands of this group to a sick president, it has not tied the repair of pipelines, exploitation of oil and gas, as well as the deployment and retooling of troops in the region to the president's health," it said in a statement to news agencies. "A situation where the future of the Niger delta is tied to the health and wellbeing of one man is unacceptable."

Yar'Adua, 58, is receiving treatment for a heart complaint and has failed to formally hand power to vice-president Goodluck Jonathan. Speculation is rife in the capital, Abuja, that a power struggle has begun in the ruling People's Democratic party or that junior officers could be planning a move.

Nigeria's fragile power balance has traditionally depended on rotating presidencies between the Muslim north and the south. Jonathan, a Christian from Rivers state in the south, is seen by analysts as an unacceptable choice in the eyes of the northern elite from which Yar'Adua comes.

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