Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Militia Is Potent Force in Nigeria's Oil-Rich Delta Region ; A Well-Organized Rebel Group Has Emerged to Shut off More Than One- Fifth of Nigeria's Oil Output

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Militia Is Potent Force in Nigeria's Oil-Rich Delta Region ; A Well-Organized Rebel Group Has Emerged to Shut off More Than One- Fifth of Nigeria's Oil Output

Article excerpt

Gunmen dressed in black balaclavas and camouflage flak jackets approach in a boat. As it draws alongside, their voices can be heard singing. The chorus fades and they introduce themselves.

"We are the security men of the Niger delta," says one of the men in the blue speedboat bristling with assault rifles and rocket- propelled grenade launchers. "Nobody is going to hurt you. We are everywhere in the Niger delta."

The singing militiamen are part of the newly organized Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and are the latest expression of local resentment in a region of the country where tens of millions of dollars worth of oil are extracted each day, but most people live on only several hundred dollars each year.

The MEND organization, whose leadership remains a matter of speculation, appears to be better organized, trained, and equipped than any other group to emerge so far from this restive, swampy region.

"The way [the MEND militiamen] have been able to engage [the Nigerian military] in the last one month or so, the sophistication of firepower, it's not child's play," says Kayode Komolafe, managing editor of Nigeria's This Day newspaper. "What we have in this place is something aching. If we are not careful it could explode into greater warfare."

Nigeria is the world's eighth largest oil exporter and the fifth largest supplier of crude to the US. MEND's recent sabotage of pipelines and other oil facilities has so far shut off over a fifth of the country's oil output, steadily driving up world oil prices.

On Sunday, MEND threatened more attacks and vowed to cut daily oil exports by 1 million barrels this month, adding to concerns for Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as it prepares for a strategy meeting in this week.

MEND recently captured, and subsequently released, six hostages from the US, Egypt, the Philippines, and Thailand last week, but is still holding two Americans and a Briton. MEND has killed at least 14 soldiers in gun battles, but the Nigerian military has refrained from launching an offensive out of fear for the hostages' lives.

An e-mail statement from a MEND spokesman, who goes by the name Jomo Gbomo, said the hostages were "not in risk of death," but they could be held for a good while longer if the military fails to withdraw all troops from the delta - a condition unlikely to be met.

At last week's meeting with journalists in the middle of the Escravos River, a MEND gunman swore to "stop oil flowing from our land" until a host of political and economic grievances were resolved.

High up on the list of demands was the release of two ethnic Ijaw leaders: secessionist militia boss Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who was arrested in September on treason charges, and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, a former southern governor who jumped bail in Britain on money laundering charges and was jailed soon after arriving back in Nigeria. …

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