THE NEW YORK TIMES: Nigerian Security Improves After Deal: “Oil executives said many similar agreements between rival militia in the delta have been signed in the past, only to be torn up a day later. Time would tell how strong it was.” (ShellNews.net)
Posted 4 Oct 04
PORT HARCOURT (Reuters) - Security is improving in Nigeria's oil-producing delta and oil companies are considering a return for evacuated workers following a peace deal signed by a rebel militia, industry sources said on Sunday.
The surprise pact, sealed on Friday, resolved a crisis that had driven crude prices to a record high above $50 a barrel.
And despite potential pitfalls in the way of a lasting deal, the military appeared to be respecting an agreement not to launch attacks on rebel warlord Mujahid Dokubo-Asari.
Nigeria's top oil producer Royal Dutch Shell Group(SHEL.L) evacuated 300 workers last month from three oilfields, to escape clashes between rebels and troops in the vast area of creeks and mangrove swamps. It also shut a small flow station because of security restrictions.
``There is relative calm, but we need to see how sustainable it is before resuming those operations,'' said a Shell spokesman.
A source at the oil firm said it could take a decision to return evacuated staff on Monday.
Asari received a hero's welcome from thousands of residents of small towns near the Rivers state capital Port Harcourt on Sunday, celebrating the peace agreement signed with a rival warlord in the presence of the government on Friday.
``Asari is a hero to us in the sense that he has removed us from bondage,'' said Napoleon Dagogo, a civil servant among the throng of supporters.
``This will bring lasting peace to Rivers state and Port Harcourt. I hope this peace will go on and on and I want the government to assist Asari to sustain the peace.''
Asari, who says he wants a better deal for the ethnic Ijaw people who make up the majority in the delta, pledged to disarm his Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force and withdraw threats to oil operations in the world's seventh largest exporter.
The deal was preceded by a cease-fire agreed between Asari and the federal government, which had sent thousands of troops to the southeastern Rivers state to crack down on his militia.
Army spokesman Onyema Kanu said the military was respecting an agreement not to attack Asari.
``We have received a directive from the appropriate authorities to mark time. By that I mean put our activities on hold, yet we are alert,'' he said.
Oil executives said many similar agreements between rival militia in the delta have been signed in the past, only to be torn up a day later. Time would tell how strong it was.
Asari is set to resume talks with the government on Oct. 8 about issues including political reforms and economic revival for the impoverished delta.
``The next two weeks will test the sincerity of the government and Asari,'' said Oronto Douglas, a human rights lawyer and fellow Ijaw activist.
``I hope the government is not just buying time, because that could be dangerous.''