Nigerian militants vow to resume attacks next week

Nigeria’s main militant group vowed to resume attacks after a cease-fire expires next week, while the government said Thursday that more than 8,000 militants had disarmed as part of an amnesty program.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said in a statement that it would no longer limit its attacks to the destruction of pipelines and said that most of those participating in the amnesty program “were rented by the government in the hope that real militants would be persuaded to emerge.”

“We will fight for our land with the last drop of our blood regardless of how many people the government of Nigeria and the oil companies are successful in bribing,” MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo said.

MEND had been attacking oil installations, kidnapping petroleum company employees and fighting government troops since January 2006 in what it calls a protest against the unrelenting poverty of people in the Niger Delta.

The militant group had declared a 60-day cease-fire on July 15, saying the government had met one of its demands by releasing ailing rebel leader Henry Okah. In mid-September the group extended its cease-fire by one month, saying it hoped the truce would help facilitate talks with the government.

The militants say they are fighting to force the federal government to send more oil-industry funds to the southern region that remains poor despite five decades of oil production. The government has acknowledged the grievances of many in the Niger Delta, but denounces the militants as criminals who steal crude oil from Nigeria’s wells and pipelines and profit by selling it overseas.

Attacks from MEND and unrest in the Delta region had cut Nigeria’s oil production by about a million barrels a day, allowing Angola to overtake it as Africa’s top oil producer.

In August, the government offered militants amnesty if they agreed to disarm hoping it would allow them to increase production.

Amnesty committee spokeswoman Timiebi Koripamo-Agari has called the program a success, pointing to several key militant leaders who agreed to participate.

On Thursday, Air Vice Marshall Lucky Ararile told a news conference in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, that 8,299 militants had surrendered their arms during the 60-day program. Ararile noted that figure was provisional, saying there had been a last-minute rush to take part before the Oct. 4 deadline.

MEND says that commanders who disarmed have been replaced, and Gbomo warned oil companies to disregard government claims that an amnesty program was successful.

“MEND considers this next phase of our struggle as the most critical as we intend to end 50 years of slavery of the people of the Niger Delta by the Nigerian government, a few individuals and the western oil companies once and for all,” Gbomo said.

The rebel group has called cease-fires before, the government has made similar promises and all has come to naught. In January, the group called off a four-month cease-fire alleging that the government had broken it, though the government denied that.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.