Niger Delta: militants launch more attacks as amnesty hopes fade

Niger Delta: Nigerian militants said on Sunday they had launched their third attack against Royal Dutch Shell since President Umaru Yar’Adua made an amnesty offer and warned their campaign of sabotage would intensify. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said in an emailed statement it had attacked a Shell oil well head in the Cawthorne Channel at about 0200 GMT, again

dashing hopes that the amnesty offer would buy a period of calm.

“The facility connects to the Bonny loading terminal in Rivers state,” it said, referring to a key oil export terminal in the eastern part of the Niger Delta.

There was no immediate confirmation from Shell or from the military task force which patrols the Niger Delta.

Shell said on Tuesday the latest raids — which had largely focused on the western Niger Delta — have slashed output from its onshore facilities to 140,000 barrels per day (bpd), around half of what it was producing earlier this year.

The disruption to supplies last week helped push global oil prices to an eight-month high above $72 a barrel.Yar’Adua said 10 days ago he would offer a 60-day amnesty to gunmen to try to end unrest which has prevented Nigeria from pumping much above two thirds of its installed capacity since early 2006, costing it billions of dollars in lost revenue.

Some militant leaders have indicated they would be willing to take part, provided they can negotiate the terms, but MEND — a loose network of various armed factions — has doubted the government’s sincerity.

The group blew up a Shell well head in Delta state hours after the amnesty proposal, accusing the military of going on a “punitive mission” to hunt down suspected militants despite the offer, a charge the security forces denied.

Fighters from MEND also attacked two well clusters in Shell’s Estuary field on Monday, forcing the Anglo-Dutch giant to shut in some production as a precaution.


MEND first burst onto the scene at the end of 2005, knocking out more than a quarter of Nigeria’s oil output — then some 2.4 million barrels per day (bpd) — in a matter of weeks.Oil production in the OPEC member country, the world’s eighth biggest crude oil exporter, has never fully recovered and the militants have continued to nibble at infrastructure, preventing international oil firms from carrying out repairs.

MEND’s latest campaign comes after the military launched its biggest offensive for at least a decade in May, using helicopter gunships and battalions of ground troops to hunt down suspected militants in the western Niger Delta.

One of the group’s key demands is that the amnesty offer be extended to its suspected leader Henry Okah, who is on trial for treason and gun-running and could face the death penalty. MEND says Okah needs urgent medical attention for a kidney ailment.

Yar’Adua has asked Interior Minister Godwin Abbe to extend the clemency offer to Okah, but he has so far failed publicly to do so and Okah’s trial continued last week.

“The government’s insincerity is the main cause (of the amnesty offer not working),” MEND said on Saturday in a statement which accused the security forces of attacking a community near oil facilities and burning it down after residents had fled.“(This) will be revenged and it is the oil companies that will bear the brunt,” the group said.

Some security analysts expect the military to launch another major offensive similar to the one it carried out in the western delta in May against those militants who do not accept the amnesty once the 60-day offer period ends in October.