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The Wall Street Journal: Rival Nigerian Militants Pledge Peace In Niger Delta



June 1, 2004 7:11 p.m.

Posted 2 June 04


WARRI, Nigeria (AP)--Rival ethnic militants in Nigeria's troubled oil delta clasped hands and pledged peace Tuesday after the killings of two U.S. oil workers prompted a government crackdown on a yearlong spree of bloodletting that killed hundreds and razed villages.


"The only solution to our problems is at a round table," said Dan Reyenieju, leader of an ethnic Itsekiri delegation. He was flanked by archrival Ijaws in a dingy social club in the Niger Delta oil city of Warri.


"This is a great day," agreed Ijaw leader Kingsley Otuaro. "This is definitely the solution to our problems."


Nigeria is the world's seventh-largest oil exporter and fifth-biggest supplier of U.S. oil imports.


The escalating violence in the Niger Delta, where the bulk of Nigeria's oil is drilled, has increasingly forced multinational firms to shut some wells and pipeline facilities and turn their attention offshore in recent years.


In a joint statement, both sides tacitly admitted complicity in devastating criminal and ethnic attacks.


"For years, we have...relentlessly scared away investments, recklessly rendered our people homeless and in fact ushered in a period of unrest," Otuaro said, reading the statement.


Otuaro and others said they had "ordered our brothers" to end attacks on companies and civilians.


While militants from both tribes admitted they stand to lose if oil multinationals pull out completely, both sides accused the firms of inadvertently fanning the violence with "divide-and-rule tactics" including payoffs to militants from one side to protect oil sites from the other.


Oil company officials privately admit being forced to pay "security fees" to local toughs in order to prevent hostage-takings, sabotage and other attacks.


Although the peace promise offered new hope, oil multinationals ChevronTexaco Corp. (CVX) and Royal Dutch/Shell (RD) said it was too soon to risk returning to swampland wells and pipeline facilities.


For weeks last year, the crisis cut Nigeria's production by nearly one-quarter, and it is still down by 7%.


"We do welcome any peace initiatives and we support any efforts made. Yet it is too early to see what the results are," said Don Boham, spokesman for Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary.


ChevronTexaco also has no immediate plans to return to abandoned oil sites and was waiting for the firm's security advisers to determine "when it's safe to return," company spokesman Deji Haastrup said.


Brig. Gen. Elias Zamani, commander of a joint task army-police force in the troubled southern delta, said security remained unstable since an April 23 shooting deaths of U.S. oil contractors Ryne Hathaway and Denny Fowler and five Nigerians.


Hathaway, 42, from suburban San Antonio, and Denny Fowler, 47, of Grapevine, Texas, worked for International Building Systems, and had arrived in Nigeria a day before they were killed by machine-gun fire. The men were returning in a boat from an abandoned ChevronTexaco oil platform they had been inspecting.


A third U.S. citizen sustained gunshot wounds.


"The situation changes every day," Zamani said, adding local residents were mainly avoiding traveling on delta creeks and swamplands still deemed unsafe. There were other signs of instability in the key port city of Warri, including a human head perched Tuesday on a pole along the city's airport road.


Residents said the head was that of a suspected illegal weapons dealer lynched by a mob and burned alive.


Ijaw and Itsekiri militants said their peace endeavor was a "voluntary" decision taken after dozens of them were detained for several days last month by police and military troops investigating the killings of the U.S. citizens and their colleagues.


"A few weeks back nothing would have brought me to talk with my Ijaw brother, not to mention sitting next to him," said Reyenieju, gesturing at Otuaro. "It is not to say those events...brought us together, but at least we are talking."

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