Nigerian oil rebels hail peace talks
Nov 16, 2009, 3:52 GMT
Nairobi/Abuja - Nigeria's main rebel group said it welcomed peace talks with President Umaru Yar'Adua to end a long-running conflict in the oil-producing Niger Delta.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has conducted a extensive campaign of sabotage, cutting the West African nation's oil production by more than 20 per cent since early 2006 and helping drive up oil prices globally.
However, the group has called a ceasefire and over the weekend a negotiation team met Yar'Adua.
'This meeting heralds the beginning of serious, meaningful dialogue between MEND and the Nigerian government to deal with and resolve root issues that have long been swept under the carpet,' MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo said in an emailed statement.
Many of MEND's commanders and troops have taken advantage of a government amnesty to lay down their arms in recent months, but the leadership warned that other issues need to be addressed.
MEND said it was fighting for a larger share of the oil wealth for local residents, who complain the oil industry has ruined their agriculture and fishing livelihoods.
The government has promised to bring millions of dollars into the region to help bring people out of poverty.
Concerns remain over the peace process, however.
The government is behind schedule on setting up re-training camps for militants and analysts say the long-term challenge is to combat corruption and ensure that money to redevelop the delta reaches its intended recipients.