Nigerian Militants Destroy 3 Pipelines In Oil-Rich Delta

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By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 9, 2007

JOHANNESBURG, May 8 -- Militants in Nigeria's volatile oil-producing region destroyed three pipelines in raids early Tuesday as part of what they said would be a rising campaign of destruction leading up to the inauguration of the nation's new president on May 29.

Political protests against the election of Umaru Yar'Adua have fizzled in Nigeria since he won the presidency on April 21 in a vote that observers said was profoundly flawed nationwide and, in many places, simply rigged.

But rising discontent appears to have fueled a fresh round of conflict in the Niger Delta. The targets of frustration include not just Yar'Adua, a soft-spoken northern governor with little national profile before his run for the presidency, but outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has alternated between being conciliatory and confrontational with militants who in recent years have waged a low-level guerrilla war against oil companies working in Nigeria.

"We are trying to send a warning to the incoming administration to chart a different course from that taken by Obasanjo," a militant spokesman who called himself Jomo Gbomo wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post on Tuesday. "We want them to realize the futility of military means as a solution to the unrest in the delta, exposing at the same time, the helplessness of the Obasanjo government."

Gbomo, whose real name could not be determined, made similar comments to reporters from several other news organizations. In the past, his e-mailed predictions of future actions and accounts of attacks have proved largely reliable. He claims to speak for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, a loose coalition of groups that have used car bombs, kidnappings and attacks on pipelines and pumping stations to draw attention to their demands.

Yar'Adua has said that resolving trouble in the delta is among his top priorities. He has appointed his running mate -- Goodluck Jonathan, who is both the vice president-elect and the outgoing governor of one of the several delta states -- to focus on problems there.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta also has asserted responsibility for the capture of six oil workers, including American John Stapleton, in a raid on a Chevron oil vessel on May 1. Gbomo repeated Tuesday that the group would release all six men, whose pictures he included in an e-mail, on May 30, the day after Yar'Adua is scheduled to take power.

Tuesday's pipeline attacks shut down an Agip oil export facility that pumps 200,000 barrels per day, Gbomo said in a claim backed by several news reports. Attacks on Royal Dutch Shell oil fields in February forced the closure of facilities pumping 500,000 barrels per day.

In one of several e-mails Gbomo sent on Tuesday, he wrote that more pipeline attacks are planned over the next several days. "In the next few months we hope to halt Nigerian [oil] exports altogether," he said.

News reports said both the renewed threats and the pipeline attacks combined to push global oil prices higher, a common occurrence when there is violent conflict in the Niger Delta.

Nigeria's oil production, which at full capacity reaches 2.5 million barrels per day, comes mainly from a sprawling, impoverished coastal region with few roads, schools or hospitals. Much of the region is reachable only by boats that traverse the tangled network of rivers and mangrove swamps where thousands of miles of unguarded pipelines carry billions of dollars of oil out to waiting ships. Substantial production also occurs offshore.

The Niger Delta was also the site of some of the most brazen rigging in last month's vote, observers said. Young thugs stuffed ballot boxes, sometimes after snatching them from polling places, according to numerous reports. The Nigerian electoral commission reported high turnout and landslides for ruling party candidates, even though voters said many polling stations opened late, closed early or never opened at all.

Human rights activist Anyakwee Nsirimovu, speaking in the Niger Delta's biggest city, Port Harcourt, said such blatant electoral fraud has bolstered support for armed confrontation against the government.

"The election was a farce as far as we are concerned," said Nsirimovu, who was an election observer. "People will try as much as possible . . . to undermine this illegitimate system that is being foisted on the people."


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