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Nigerian Rebels Declare Indefinite Ceasefire

By Gilbert da Costa
25 October 2009

Nigeria's most prominent armed group has declared an indefinite ceasefire to allow for peace talks with government.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, says the government has committed itself to what it called "a serious and meaningful dialogue" with the group to address its concerns.

MEND emerged in early 2006, knocking out nearly a quarter of Nigeria's oil output within weeks, the start of what it called a fight for more local control of oil resources. Security analysts say MEND has been depleted by several key leaders and thousands of gunmen who accepted a government amnesty and disarmed.

The amnesty granted immunity from prosecution to any militant who renounced violence before October fourth.

The governor of the key oil producing Bayelsa state, Timpreye Sylvia, says MEND no more represents a serious threat to the oil industry and should be ignored.

"Who is left in MEND? I think MEND is just a faceless human being sitting on a computer in one small room somewhere. I do not believe there is anything really called MEND, because the key people who propelled MEND have all said they are not in it anymore," said Sylvia.

Despite a recent drop-off in violence, the Niger Delta remains a stronghold for gangs and militants groups with strong opposition toward foreign oil companies and the government.

Security analysts say the Nigerian oil industry remains vulnerable to opportunistic attacks, crude oil thefts and kidnappings.

President Umaru Yar'Adua has met with former key rebel commanders in the past few weeks. By agreeing to talks with MEND, which shunned the amnesty offer, the government is said to be demonstrating a firm resolve to end the unrest that has cost Africa's top oil exporter billions of dollars in lost revenue.

Last week it was reported Nigeria planed to offer inhabitants of the oil-producing Niger Delta an extra 10 percent of oil and gas revenue in a bid to end the rebellion.

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