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Nigeria Hails Shaky Peace Deal In The Niger Delta

By Gilbert da Costa

Nigeria Hails Shaky Peace Deal in the Niger Delta

The Nigerian government has hailed a truce with rebels in the violence-prone, oil-rich state of Bayelsa. But as Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports, the main militant group has rejected the deal.

Government officials have described the peace deal as an important breakthrough in ending attacks on the oil industry.

The signing of the agreement Thursday, in the remote creeks of the delta, was the highpoint of an elaborate three-day peace ceremony.

Ebimo Amungo, the spokesman for Bayelsa state government which hosted the event, says most of the region's armed groups endorsed the deal.

"I can assure you that the main groups, and probably the most active ones, have all acceded to this signing. One or two people might say they don't want to, because they want more conditions. These conditions were out of the ability of the state government to give to them. Most of the main militants groups have signed the peace agreement," said Amungo.

But the main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, has rejected the agreement. In a message e-mailed to journalists, the group said the government was out to deceive the international community. They described the peace ceremony as a "stage-managed play which would make a bad B-grade movie."

The group is demanding the release of one of its leaders from prison in Angola as a pre-condition to take part in any ceasefire agreement.

Armed groups protesting neglect and poverty in the vast wetlands region have stepped up violence against oil workers and industry facilities since the 1990s.

The violence has forced thousands of foreigners to leave Africa's top oil producing region, reducing output by more than 20 percent.

The region has been relatively quiet in the past few weeks, giving rise to optimism that a political solution remains possible.

Analysts say the long-term solution to Niger Delta's violence lies in the government's commitment to the region's rapid development.


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