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. Analysis: Nigeria rebels eyes U.S. race

Let the fireworks begin...
by Carmen Gentile
Abuja, Nigeria (UPI) May 09, 2008
Nigerian militants are calling for former U.S. President Carter to mediate talks between rebels and the government to end hostilities in the oil-rich Niger Delta and are weighing a reported cease-fire appeal by Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

"We are ready to call off all hostilities and hold a temporary cease-fire in honor of President Carter should the Nigerian Government accept," read a statement purportedly from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Nigerian news sources reported.

Carter, who unsuccessfully mediated talks between Nigeria and militant groups in 1999, has not said publicly whether he would accept the invitation.

Meanwhile, Obama, according to MEND, has called for a cease-fire in the delta. A MEND spokesman said the Democratic candidate is "someone we respect and hold in high esteem" and that his supposed call for a cessation of hostilities is something they are considering.

Obama officials have not confirmed whether the senator did speak out on the delta violence, which analysts attribute in part to oil prices reaching record highs.

Militants, widely blamed for costing foreign oil operations in the delta about 500,000 barrels per day, contend that the Nigerian government, along with the foreign oil companies operating in the delta, have benefited enormously over the years from the sale of the nation's oil and gas reserves, though they have done little to help the residents of the region who live in abject poverty.

Since the 1970s, Nigeria, Africa's No. 1 oil producer, has pumped more than $300 billion worth of crude from the southern delta states, according to estimates. But high unemployment in the delta, environmental degradation due to oil and gas extraction, and a lack of basic resources such as fresh water and electricity have angered some of the region's youth and incited them to take up arms.

MEND has also said it was stepping up its attacks because of the arrest of one of its most prominent leaders, who is facing trial by a secret commission on several charges including weapons trafficking and treason.

The Nigerian government and foreign oil companies meanwhile appear perplexed about how to quell the violence and get production back online.

"There's no immediate solution to this situation," London-based analyst for Global Insight Simon Wardell told United Press International. "And we don't expect Nigerian oil production to come back online in the foreseeable future."

The production decrease in Nigeria has been blamed in part for rising global oil prices.

Nigeria is the fifth-largest supplier of crude to the United States -- after Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela -- and accounted for 1.075 million barrels per day. The United States, in a bid to reduce dependence on oil from the Middle East, has placed its hopes in Africa, in general, and Nigeria, in particular.

Foreign companies like Shell have already conceded that this year's production was down from last year mostly because of setbacks caused by violence.

Feeling the sting of recent attacks on its installations in the oil-rich Niger Delta, Royal Dutch Shell said in April it might not be able to honor contracts because of decreased production levels.

The leading foreign oil producer in Nigeria said its output was off by 169,000 barrels per day because of the increased attacks by militant groups.

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Analysis: Venezuela, China near oil deal
Miami (UPI) May 7, 2008
China is reportedly preparing to sign a new petroleum deal with Venezuela, this time pledging to invest $2 billion in Venezuela's oil industry.

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