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Nigeria's oil rebels end cease-fire

Crucial Niger Delta oil production threatened, Nigerians ask where is President Yar'Adua?

Nigeria's oil rebels ended the cease-fire with the government and will resume their sabotage of oil production in the Niger Delta. Here rebels of the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force patrol the creeks of the Niger Delta near Port Harcourt in Nigeria, Sept. 28, 2004. (George Esiri/Reuters)

LAGOS, Nigeria — A militant group in Nigeria’s oil-rich delta region has called off a cease-fire that had held since July, threatening a fragile peace process in the U.S.’s fifth-largest oil supplier.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), an armed group that demands a greater share of oil revenues for delta inhabitants, ended its temporary truce over the weekend. Mend heavily criticized the Nigerian government for what it sees as a continued failure to empower local communities, many of whom live in poverty despite their resource-rich land. The Mend rebels also demand that the oil companies stop the environmental degradation of the Niger Delta.

“All companies related to the oil industry in the Niger Delta should prepare for an all-out onslaught against their installations and personnel,” a Mend spokesman said in a statement released over the weekend. “Nothing will be spared.”

Militants’ attacks on pipelines and facilities in recent years have severely dented the output of Nigeria’s oil, which accounts for more than 85 percent of government revenues. Nigeria once comfortably held the title of Africa’s biggest oil producer, but the country now competes for that top spot with Angola.

Oil production had been rising again during the recent lull in violence by Mend and other groups. Last month, Citibank forecast that Nigeria would pump out an average of 2.25 million barrels a day in 2010, up from 1.83 million barrels a day in 2009. This would mark an upturn after four years of falling production. Foreign oil giants present in the delta include the U.S.’ ExxonMobil and Anglo-Dutch group Shell.

After the Mend rebels announced that they will resume their sabotage, Citibank told GlobalPost that it will not revise its optimistic forecast, reasoning that at least in the first half of this year attacks will not reach the levels seen in preceding years, even though it assumes sporadic attacks will resume.

The renewed call to arms thus threatens a promising period for the delta. Nigeria’s President Umaru Yar’Adua last August launched an amnesty that lured thousands of youths to give up their weapons in return for stipends and training. The scheme was seen by many as a positive step and Mend extended their cease-fire indefinitely in October.

But the peace process has since stalled, as cash handouts and training courses have in many cases not materialized.

“The post-amnesty program is not going well at all,” said Dimieari Von Kemedi, a state official in Bayelsa, one of Nigeria’s handful of oil-producing states. “There is no credible rehabilitation program and development spending in the delta has not sped up. We have not moved one inch since disarmament.”