/ 21 April 2008

Nigeria rebels claim attacks on oil pipelines

A rebel group from Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta said it attacked two major oil pipelines there on Monday in what it called a message to the United States to stop supporting ”injustice” in the troubled region.

In an email, a faction of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) said its commandos had carried out attacks against the pipelines located at Isaka River and Abonnema River in Rivers State.

It gave no more details of the raids, which followed an attack on Thursday, claimed by Mend militants, against a pipeline operated by Royal Dutch Shell, also in Rivers State.

Mend said the pipelines targeted on Monday could belong to Shell and US major Chevron Corporation, but there was no immediate confirmation of this from the companies mentioned, or from any independent sources.

Addressing US President George Bush, the rebel group said the attacks were ”our way of saying ‘welcome”’ to a US warship, the high-speed vessel Swift, which has been visiting the Gulf of Guinea to conduct training with the Nigerian navy.

”Mr President, your warships do not intimidate us. Instead they only embolden our resolve in fighting the Goliaths of the world that support injustice,” the Mend statement said.

Nigeria is the fifth-largest supplier of oil to the United States, which has cultivated good relations with the government of President Umaru Yar’Adua.

”The ripple effect of this attack will touch your economy and people one way or the other and [we] hope we now have your attention,” MEND said.

It complained that Bush had not responded to past requests from it to mediate talks with the Nigerian government.

The US government criticised the disputed Nigerian elections that brought Yar’Adua to power last year, but has since engaged with him. Mend said the US government knew the election had been fraudulent but had ”looked the other way”.

It said it was still ready to hold peace talks, but would now prefer former US president Jimmy Carter to act as mediator, instead of Bush.

So far, there have been no international mediators involved in the Nigerian government’s attempts to negotiate with splintered rebel forces in the Niger Delta, where the bulk of Nigeria’s oil is produced.

Mend is one of several armed groups who say they are fighting to redress injustice in the impoverished region, where five decades of oil extraction have polluted the land and water, and enriched corrupt politicians.

But crime and militancy are intertwined in the delta and such groups make big profits from kidnappings for ransom, from a lucrative trade in stolen oil or from providing thugs-for-hire to politicians who use them to steal elections.

Niger Delta militants often make appeals to the international community but Nigeria has treated the unrest in the delta as an internal matter and no foreign power has publicly questioned that. — Reuters