/ 5 May 2008

Nigeria oil rebels considering Obama truce appeal

Rebels who have stepped up attacks on Nigeria’s oil industry in the last month said on Sunday they were considering a ceasefire appeal by United States presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) has launched five attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta since it resumed a campaign of violence in April, forcing Royal Dutch Shell to shut more than 164 000 barrels of oil per day (bpd).

”The Mend command is seriously considering a temporary ceasefire appeal by Senator Barack Obama. Obama is someone we respect and hold in high esteem,” the militant group said in an emailed statement.

Mend did not say when or where Obama, the leading candidate for the Democratic ticket for November’s US presidential election, made the appeal. It said it hoped the government would use any ceasefire to improve conditions for its detained leader, Henry Okah.

The militant group also claimed responsibility for an attack on Shell facilities in southern Bayelsa state on Saturday, which caused a spill and prompted the company to shut some production.

The attack came a day after a federal court ruled that Okah should be tried for treason and gun-running in secret. Angered by the ruling, Mend had threatened prompt reprisals against the oil industry.

Peace talks between the government and militants to resolve the unrest in the Delta stalled after Okah was arrested in Angola in September. He was extradited to Nigeria in February to face trial.

The volatile Niger Delta is the heart of Nigeria’s oil industry, which exports around two million barrels per day (bpd), but energy multinationals have been struggling to cope with a wave of violence in the vast area.

As part of a campaign for greater local control over oil revenues, Mend launched violent attacks in early 2006 which shut a fifth of Nigerian output and drove up world oil prices.

The latest wave of attacks and an eight-day strike by senior oil workers at US energy giant Exxon Mobil which ended on Thursday, had slashed Nigeria’s output by 50%, helping to push oil prices to new records. – Reuters