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. Analysis: Nigeria's Delta vows crackdown

by Carmen Gentile
Miami (UPI) Jan 4, 2008
Hoping to curtail the rising violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta, one governor has threatened to arrest the family members of militants accused of attacking oil and gas operations.

Gov. Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State said authorities would arrest the parents of suspected militants in an effort to force them to lay down their arms. The threat came a day after a band of militants stormed the state capital, Port Harcourt, and killed at least 13 people. Local media reports said the militant group known as the Niger Delta Vigilante Movement was responsible.

The Rivers governor reportedly made a visit to the group's camp and spoke one-on-one with its leader, Ateke Tom, and pleaded for his men to lay down their arms. Tom, according to This Day newspaper, reportedly told Amaechi his men won't give up their armed struggle despite offers from the governor of amnesty.

Following the meeting, Amaechi warned of the consequence of Tom's refusal.

"If he keeps his weapons, believe me, we will chase him to anywhere he goes," he said. "While we appreciate the difficulties of these youths, we shall advise in very strong terms that they surrender their weapons to government while we look for a way of rehabilitating them.

"Those who surrender their weapons will be granted amnesty while those who refuse to do so will face the wrath of the people and that of the Rivers State Government."

Supporters of the governor's stance have called for an immediate increase in security in the region.

"This should be done by beefing up all security outfits in the region to curtail possible actions from the militant groups, so that their nefarious atrocities will not disrupt the developmental plans for the region," read an editorial in Thursday's edition of the Niger Delta Standard.

Groups like the Niger Delta Vigilante Movement and the better-known Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta have been waging a steady campaign of attacks aimed at foreign oil interests and Nigerian forces in the delta for more than two years. In 2007 alone, more than 200 people were kidnapped and several Nigerian police and soldiers killed.

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.

However, some leaders from previous militant movements in Nigeria have spoken out against MEND and other militant movements.

"There is no MEND, or militants," Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, a former rebel leader, told United Press International in a recent interview. "They are merely armed gangs bent on violence and thievery, nothing more."

For his part, Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua said that in 2008 the security of the oil-producing delta would be chief among his concerns, adding the government would allot one-third of the country's $20 billion budget for the military and development projects in the region in hopes of stemming the violence.

The decision has garnered the praise of both political allies and foes, though many in the delta remain skeptical if the money being promised will make its way down through a notoriously corrupt government.

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Analysis: China and Turkmen energy
Washington (UPI) Jan 4, 2008
Before the 1991 Soviet collapse, Russia dominated the economies of the other 14 republics. In the decade and a half since, Western companies have been angling to acquire a piece of the former Soviet Union's energy assets. In the last few years, however, China has become an increasingly important regional player, and in a nasty Christmas present for both Washington and Moscow, on Dec. 28 China National Petroleum Corp.'s subsidiary PetroChina announced it will invest $2.16 billion to underwrite construction of a planned Central Asia-China natural gas pipeline.

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