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NIGERIA:Peace talks on Nigeria's oil delta rebellion

Afrol News
September 29th, 2004

afrol News, 29 September - Militia leader Dokubo Asari of Nigeria's oil producing Niger Delta is now set to negotiate peace with President Olusegun Obasanjo after his group's threats pushed world oil prices to a record level yesterday. The rebel leader will demand "resource control and self-determination" for the Ijaw people, living in poverty in the Niger Delta, to lay down his arms.

The militia leader told this in interviews with the foreign press in Nigeria. He is now in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, where he is set to meet with President Obasanjo later in the day. He said he was invited to go to Abuja by a presidential envoy and that any issue could be discussed. The federal government of Nigeria so far has not wanted to comment Mr Asari's comments.

Mr Asari leads the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force, which he claims is a rebel group to protect the economic and political rights of the Ijaw people, which lives in the oil producing delta. While the Niger Delta is Nigeria's principal oil producer and revenue creator, the majority of the Ijaws still live in deep poverty. Many have even grown poorer due to oil exploitation.

Revenues from the Delta mostly go directly to Nigeria's federal government or foreign companies, while most oil workers are foreigners and oil spills have ruined the livelihood of many villagers. The limited programmes operated by oil companies to improve the environment and the living standards of the local population so far have had little effect on poverty. Further, the Ijaw have little saying on issues regarding the oil industry.

Consequently, according to Mr Asari, it was now necessary to reach an "agreement on self-determination and resource control" for the local population in the Niger Delta. If not, his militias would declare an "all-out war on the Nigerian state" and against foreign oil companies, as the group said in a statement on Monday. Oil companies were given until 1 October to cease all production in the Delta or face attacks.

Nigerian authorities - which prior to the President's invitation to negotiate only had answered the rebels by sending troops - however hold that Mr Asari's men simply are a gang of oil thieves. His group is reported to have stolen large quantities of oil from the Delta's installations, which later have been sold at the black market. Fighting with a rival "armed gang" to control this black market had left the delta's River State in turmoil for over one month.

Civil rights groups in River State however claim that the two armed groups operating in the region are the product of the last elections in the state. Rivalling parties had engaged armed groups to intimidate the other party and voters. After the elections, the armed groups turned into gangs that started looting.

The fighting in River State already is said to have cost around 500 lives during the last month, according to Amnesty International. This, according to the human rights groups, also was due to the heavy-handedness of the Nigerian army, which had been given orders to use "maximum force" against the gangs. River State officials deny the high casualties described by Amnesty, however.

Meanwhile, crude oil prices are staying above the landmark price of US$ 50 per barrel on world markets as a result of the rebellion in Nigeria's oil producing delta. Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer and the world's seventh biggest exporter and the crisis in the Niger Delta comes in addition to concerns over oil supply from Iraq and Russia. Saudi Arabia's pledge to boost capacity in order to make up some of the shortfall has failed to dampen prices.

Reaching the US$ 50 per barrel mark, oil prices as such are the highest in 21 years, already causing stock markets around the world to fall. If the situation in the Niger Delta is to develop into an outright civil war, as threatened by the rebels, oil prices could stay at these levels for a long time, thus causing a global recession. The Abuja peace negotiations are thus followed closely by world governments and market analysts.

afrol News




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