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Three years after a truce came to the Niger Delta, are criminal gangs pretending to be militants just to take advantage of an amnesty?
Supposed militants in Nigeria today claimed responsibility for an attack on an oil pipeline in the Niger Delta that is owned by the Italian company ENI but the government said this was in fact the work of criminal gangs, according to Reuters.
The news agency said the company claimed the damage would result in losses of about 4,000 barrels per day.
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A statement sent to the news media was purportedly from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, which had been responsible for years of attacks until a 2009 truce, according to Reuters, which said thousands of militants had given up their arms under an amnesty that accompanied the truce.
More recent attacks were also attributed to gangs, according to Reuters.
"On Saturday the 4th of February at 1930 hrs, fighters of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (M.E.N.D) attacked and destroyed the Agip (ENI) trunk line at Brass in Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria," Reuters said, quoting from an e-mailed statement.
"This relatively insignificant attack is a reminder of our presence in the creeks of the Niger Delta and a sign of things to come,” the statement repeortedly said.
Bayelsa is the home state of President Goodluck Jonathan. Reuters speculated that there could be a correlation between violence in the Delta and political acrimony between Jonathan and the state's governor Timipre Sylva, who has been barred from running again for the Bayelsa governorship on his party's political line.
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A spokesman for a joint military task force operating in the Delta region was quoted as saying that criminal gangs were trying to revive the former violence in order to benefit from the terms of the 2009 amnesty.
"Unfortunately, people who were never part of the agitation have emerged and want to claim amnesty and its benefits by force," Timothy Antigha, a spokesman for the JTF in Bayelsa state, was quoted as saying.
According to the Agence France-Presse news agency, MEND, or those claiming to represent it, also threatened to “reduce Nigerian oil production to zero.”