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NIGERIA: Militia group wants troops out of Niger Delta

LAGOS, 8 October 2004 (IRIN) - An ethnic militia group seeking autonomy for the Niger Delta and a bigger share of oil revenues for people in the region, demanded the complete withdrawal of Nigerian troops on Friday as it prepared to resume peace talks with the government.

This new demand was issued by the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (NDPVF)as its leader, Moujahid Dokubo-Asari, flew to the federal capital Abuja for further negotiations with senior government officials.

“The Nigerian government should immediately withdraw all its security forces constituting ‘occupational’ forces and terror groups in the Niger Delta,” said the statement signed by Richman Yinbiri, who described himself as the NDPVF field commander.

In an apparent move to gain wider sympathy in Nigeria as a whole, the militia group also demanded that Obasanjo reverse recent increases in the domestic price of petroleum products. Nigeria's trade unions have called a fresh strike on Monday to protest at the continued price hikes.

The NDPVF, which seeks greater autonomy for the Ijaw people, the largest ethnic group in the oil-rich Niger Delta, said it was still prepared to disarm if it found the government willing to negotiate sincerely.

But it demanded quick progress towards the devolution of power and the attribution of a larger share of government oil revenues to the region that produces nearly all of Nigeria's 2.5 million barrels per day of crude oil.

“The NDPVF demands the immediate abrogation of all statutes that are inimical to the aspirations of the Niger Delta people towards resource control and self-determination within the context of the Nigerian state,” the statement said.

The NDPVF, which finances itself by tapping oil from pipelines and selling it illegally to tankers waiting offshore, has been involved in heavy fighting with government troops and a rival militia force in the Port Harcourt area for several months.

But President Olusegun Obasanjo agreed to open peace talks last week after the NDPVF threatened to attack foreign oil workers in the region in a new offensive.

That risk of major disruption to supplies from Africa's largest oil producer sent world oil prices soaring to record highs of more than US$50 per barrel. But three days of talks between Dokubo-Asari and senior government officials in Abuja led to a provisional truce being declared on 1 October.

Dokubo-Asari told IRIN on arrival in Abuja on Friday for further peace talks that he did not expect the federal government to agree to all of his movement's demands immediately.

But he said he wanted a timetable for convening “a sovereign national conference” of Nigeria’s more than 250 ethnic groups to determine the country’s future.

"It will take sometime before all the issues can be looked into, but there must be a timetable," Dokubo-Asari said.

"We need to know what the government plans to do and when it wants to do it,” he added.

Dokubo-Asari is viewed as a hero by many in the Niger Delta, where impoverished communities accuse the joint ventures run by the Nigerian government and multinational oil companies of depriving them of the wealth produced on their land.

Last weekend the self-styled revolutionary made a triumphant return to Port Harcourt, Nigeria’s main oil industry hub, where he was greeted as a hero by thousands of people.

Until recently, the government had simply dismissed him as a gangster and an oil thief.

Theme (s): Conflict, Economy, Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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