The main militantgroup in the oil-rich Niger Delta called off its cease-fire with thegovernment Saturday morning, dealing a potential death blow to apresidential amnesty program aimed at ending violence that has crippledproduction in the West African nation.
The Movement for theEmancipation of the Niger Delta issued a statement saying it would nolonger abide by the unconditional Oct. 25 cease-fire President UmaruYar'Adua had negotiated with the group. The militants warned oilproducers with pipelines and personnel working in the creeks and swampsof the Delta that it would wage an "an all-out onslaught" against them.
TheMEND "warns all oil companies to halt operations as any operationalinstallation attacked will be burnt to the ground," the statement read."Oil companies are responsible for the safety and welfare of theirworkers and will bear the guilt should any harm come upon their staffin the event of an attack."
The group added: "Nothing will be spared."
Militantsin the Niger Delta have attacked pipelines, kidnapped petroleum companyemployees and fought government troops since January 2006. They demandthat the federal government send more oil-industry funds to Nigeria's southern region, which remains poor despite five decades of oil production.
That violence has cut Nigeria's oil production by about 1 million barrels a day, allowing Angola to surge ahead as Africa's top oil producer. Still, Nigeriaremains the No. 3 crude oil supplier to the US, offering the countrynearly a million barrels a day in November, according to USgovernment statistics.
MEND announced it had brokered anunconditional cease-fire with the Nigerian government on Oct. 25, butlater said it broke the agreement to attack a pipeline Dec. 19. Thegroup said it attacked the line due to the long absence of Yar'Adua,who remains in Saudi Arabia receiving medical treatment for what hisdoctor described as a heart condition. Militants have questionedwhether the amnesty program Yar'Adua promised them — which includedcash payments to former fighters — has been frozen in his absence.
Partof the amnesty program included offering the Niger Delta improvementsto its decaying roads and government facilities. The militants'statement Saturday claims nothing has been done so far and said statesin northern Nigeria would receive benefits for having a pipeline pass through them.
"Thisgovernment is hoping it can divide the people of the Delta in order togovern and plunder the Niger Delta," the statement read. "All who havemisled the government and oil companies into such inanity will be putto shame."
But questions remain about what power the MEND stillwields. The amnesty program pulled away some fighters and weapons. Themilitants said they sanctioned a recent attack on a pipeline owned by asubsidiary of Chevron Corp., but didn't carry it out. They claimed tohave no hand in the kidnapping of three Britons and a Colombian workingas contractors on a Royal Dutch Shell PLC project — the firsthigh-profile ransom grab in months.
The Nigerian military also didn't confirm the pipeline attack the MEND said it carried out Dec. 19.
Still, the militant group struck a defiant tone.
"Actinglike a victor over a conquered people, the government rolled out a listof its plans for the Delta which it assumed would end decades ofagitation, promising at the same time to deal with all who remaineddissatisfied with its lame effort to redress the injustice in the NigerDelta," their statement read. "It is sufficiently clear at this pointin time that the government of Nigeria has no intentions of considering the demands made by this group."