Explosions hit amnesty talks in Nigeria’s oil delta

Two explosions shook the state governor’s office in Nigeria’s southern oil city of Warri on Monday where amnesty talks were being held, minutes after a bomb threat from the region’s main militant group.

The first explosion, which witnesses said appeared to have been a car bomb, took place on a highway several hundred metres from State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan’s compound, the second at the gates of the building.

Hundreds of police officers and soldiers in armoured vehicles cordoned off the building as several cars burned on the highway after the explosions.

“Two bombs exploded on the Government House expressway, one about 400m from Government House where the meeting was taking place, and another about 100m from the building,” Tunde Forsythe, a government official who was just outside at the time of the explosions, told Reuters.

Several state governors and other government officials had gathered at the offices to discuss the implementation of an amnesty programme for militants in the Niger Delta, the heartland of Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry.

Mend ‘announces presence’
There was no immediate word on casualties.

“There was a huge explosion a few minutes ago … Every one of us started running helter skelter,” said another Delta state government official who asked not to be named.

Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), the region’s main militant group, said in an emailed statement it had planted three explosive devices which would be detonated remotely in order to “announce our continued presence”.

The group said it had carried out at the attack in response to comments from Uduaghan in the local media that Mend was “a media creation”.

“The deceit of endless dialogue and conferences will no longer be tolerated. The lands of the people of the Niger Delta were stolen by the oil companies and northern Nigeria with the stroke of a pen,” Mend said in its statement.

“In the coming days we will carry out a number of attacks against installations and oil companies across the Niger Delta and will spread out to companies such as Total which have been spared in the past,” it said.

An amnesty programme brokered last year by President Umaru Yar’Adua led thousands of gunmen to lay down weapons, the most concerted effort yet to win peace, bringing more than six months without significant attacks against the oil industry.

But the programme has stalled, particularly after Yar’Adua left for three months of medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. He has since returned to the Opec member nation but remains too sick to govern.

Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has made getting the amnesty programme back on track one of his top priorities but there has been little concrete progress on the ground.

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