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20.04.2006 General News

Militants reject Niger Delta help

By BBC

Nigerian militants in the southern Delta region have rejected plans announced by President Olusegun Obasanjo to develop their region.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta also renewed its threat to continue oil installation attacks.

It said the offer of thousands more jobs and a new motorway did not address their demands for more local control of oil wealth and demilitarisation.

Mend have kidnapped foreign oil workers and warned them to leave the Delta.

In a statement, Mend said the government was trying to remedy 50 years of injustice with the promise of menial jobs.

"We do not need any further mismanagement of the fast diminishing resources of our land by the award of bogus contracts intended to channel the wealth of the Niger Delta back to the hands of those who have looted ... all these years," it said.

Earlier, Mr Obasanjo told officials from the troubled states that new jobs would be created in the military, police and the state oil company.

Announcing the new jobs and a $1.8bn (£1bn) motorway project, President Obasanjo told state representatives at a council designed to speed development in the region that the meeting was "a wonderful opportunity for a new beginning".

Grievances

A statement from Mend sent to Reuters restated a warning to oil companies operating in the Niger Delta "and more especially workers for such companies, to leave while they can. Our halt in attacks was more of a tactical suspension which has come to its end," it said.

"At a time of our choosing we will resume attacks with greater devastation and no compassion on those who choose to disregard our warnings."

There has been an upsurge of violence in recent months in the Delta, which has led to a cut in Nigerian oil production of 25%.

The attacks have cost Nigeria millions of dollars of lost revenue and helped to drive up world oil prices.

An opposition politician, Gani Fawehinmi, told the BBC the measures were not enough, as 75% of young people in the Niger Delta were without jobs.

He suggested the timing of Mr Obasanjo's initiative was because he wanted a third term in office.

Threats

In February, Mend kidnapped nine foreign workers in the region, but later released them all. The group has threatened further attacks on oil industry targets.

The militants, who say they are angered by poverty in the region, are seeking greater local control of the area's oil wealth.

The BBC's Alex Last in Lagos says the militants' grievances were not addressed at the meeting.

Although there have been promises of development in the past, few have become reality, he says.

The real test will be to see if this time the development will reach the communities who are in need, our correspondent says.

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