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Africa
Nigeria rebels declare ceasefire
Main Niger Delta rebel group to hold fire for 60 days for peace talks with government.
Last Modified: 15 Jul 2009 00:59 GMT

Mend hit an oil tanker wharf in Lagos on Monday in the first such attack outside the Niger Delta [AFP]

Nigeria's main rebel group in the Niger Delta has said it will observe a 60-day ceasefire following the release of their leader by the government.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) said on Tuesday that it was also halting its attacks, which have crippled Africa's biggest oil and gas industry, to allow for peace talks with the government.

"Hopefully, the ceasefire period will create an enabling environment for progressive dialogue," Mend said in a statement.

The 60-day ceasefire period begins on Wednesday.

Henry Okah was released from detention in the central city of Jos on Monday after being the first senior rebel to accept an amnesty offer from Umaru Yar'Adua, the president.

After Yar'Adua's decision to drop treason and gun-smuggling charges against Okah, Mend said on Monday that it considered "this release as a step towards genuine peace and prosperity if Nigeria is open to frank talks and deals sincerely with the root issues once and for all".

Violence

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 Poor miss out on Nigeria's oil riches 

Hours before Okah's release on Monday, Mend fighters killed five oil workers in an attack on an oil tanker wharf in Lagos, the country's most populous city and financial capital, in the first such operation outside the Niger Delta since starting its latest string of attacks.

Mend, which had largely concentrated its campaign on oil facilities and government targets inside the delta region until Monday's attack, called the hit on the depot and loading tankers moored at the facility "unprecedented".

The violence has forced Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron of the US and Italy's Agip to cut around 300,000 barrels per day in production in the last six weeks and has helped support global oil prices.

State-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) says that monthly oil revenue this year has dropped to around $1bn from an average of $2.2bn in 2008.

Mend says it is fighting for greater autonomy for the Niger Delta and a fairer distribution of its oil wealth.

Other groups have also said that they would lay down their arms after Okah's release.

Source:
Agencies
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