Oil militants return to violence

2010-10-02 08:06

Abuja - Twin car bombings near the area where Nigeria celebrated 50 years of independence on Friday signaled a return to violence by the country's most prominent militant group, Mend.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) has staged scores of attacks in recent years, claiming to be fighting for a fairer distribution of oil revenue, but they have mostly targeted petroleum industry installations.

Friday's car bombs that killed at least eight people, which the group claimed responsibility for, were the first such attacks in the capital.


The blasts occurred despite an amnesty programme the government offered last year that saw thousands of ex-militants in the deeply impoverished delta give up their arms.

The amnesty has resulted in a sharp decline in unrest in the oil-producing Niger Delta region, though criminal gangs have continued to carry out kidnappings for ransom.

Mend has had murky links with such gangs and sometimes claims to be negotiating with them over the release of kidnap victims.

It has also been seen as an umbrella organisation for local criminal groups.

After the recent kidnap of three French oil workers by gunmen in speedboats offshore in the Niger Delta, Mend claimed to know the victims' location and to be in touch with the abductors.

The group later said it lost contact with the kidnappers.

The well-armed group emerged in early 2006 and claimed a series of kidnappings of foreign oil workers and attacks on pipelines and other installations.

Oil production

At the peak of the unrest in the Niger Delta, the country's oil production dropped from 2.6 million barrels a day to about one million.

Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, currently produces around 2.1 million barrels daily - and many credit the amnesty programme for the improvement.

Mend's financing and support is unclear, and it has operated in the Niger Delta's maze of creeks and swamps.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who took over in May following the death of his predecessor Umaru Yar'Adua, is from the Niger Delta and is under pressure to resolve the situation in the region.

He is running in presidential elections set for early next year, and the attack on Friday was an ominous sign in a country where ballots have often been tainted by intimidation and violence.