LAGOS, Oct 16) – The rebel group that has brought chaos to Nigeria’s oil producing region on Friday ended a 90-day ceasefire and warned the oil industry and military to brace for attacks. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has waged a three-year campaign demanding a bigger share of the oil wealth for the local population, severely cutting daily production. But the government says many of its fighters have laid down their arms in a recent amnesty.
MEND "resumes its hostilities against the Nigerian oil industry, the Nigerian armed forces and its collaborators with effect from 00:00hrs, Friday, October 16, 2009," the group said in a terse e-mail statement.
MEND ordered a ceasefire in July to allow for possible talks with President Umaru Yar’Adua’s government. It set up a committee — which included 1986 Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka — to run negotiations, but no formal talks were held.
The group rejected a government amnesty offer describing it as a "charade", saying it failed to address the key issues of under-development and injustice in the Niger Delta.
The authorities say, however, that more than 8,000 militants laid down their arms and accepted the amnesty offer which ran from August 6 to October 4.
In the past three years Nigeria’s oil output has been cut from 2.6 million barrels a day to 1.7 million currently. It has now been equalled by Angola as Africa’s top exporter.
Dozens of foreign oil workers have been kidnapped by MEND and other groups in the Delta region. It has attacked pipelines and offshore facilities and even Lagos harbour.
But despite MEND’s rejection of the amnesty, the government says there has been a good response.
Yar’Adua told an OPEC delegation on Wednesday that the amnesty had resulted in a return to peace to the south of the country. The government has faced severe pressure over the conflict because 90 percent of the country’s earnings come from oil.
"The general amnesty I extended to all militants in the Niger Delta has led to the laying down of arms and a return of peace. Agitations are now over," he said.
But MEND said in a statement last week that the next phase of its struggle would be the most critical as it planned "to end 50 years of slavery of the people of the Niger Delta by the Nigerian government, a few individuals and the western oil companies once and for all."
It warned that future operations would be more destructive.
"In this next phase, we will burn down all attacked installations and no longer limit our attacks to the destruction of pipelines," it said in the statement.
The US embassy in Nigeria has called for restraint and dialogue to resolve the Niger Delta conflict.
"We note the efforts to date to advance dialogue in the Niger Delta. We hope that these efforts will continue and that restraint is exercised during this delicate period," a statement said Tuesday.