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Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Niger Delta rebel leader to meet Obasanjo
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Niger Delta rebel leader to meet Obasanjo


The head of a separatist movement in Nigeria's southern oil-rich Niger Delta, which is accused of trafficking in illegally extracted crude and has threatened to attack international oil facilities, said he had been invited to meet President Olusegun Obasanjo in Abuja. Mujahid Dokubo Asari told AFP by satellite telephone Obasanjo had sent an envoy to meet him on Tuesday and would send his presidential jet to take the separatist leader to Abuja for a meeting on Wednesday. "He invited me, I'll go there," he said.

But presidential spokeswoman Remi Oyo told AFP she was not aware any meeting has been planned. "I do not know about it," she told AFP. Asari's Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (NDPVF) is accused by the government of trafficking oil in the Niger Delta, has threatened war against the government and has told foreign oil multinationals to leave the delta region, the centre of the country's substantial crude oil production. The government deployed troops to the area two weeks ago following fighting between two armed gangs for control of the area's illegal crude oil extraction and trafficking operations.

Asari said that even if he was killed by government forces, his rebel movement would continue. "Even if he (Obasanjo) kills me he has not killed the NDPVF. Every day we have new followers," said Asari, who did not disclose his exact location. "If they kill me, they will see what they have never yet seen in the Niger Delta," he warned. The NDPVF claims to fight for the interests of ethnic Ijaw people of the delta region, which it says have suffered neglect and deprivation despite being the source of Nigeria's oil wealth. The multi-million dollar trade has done little to benefit the delta's impoverished people. The NDPVF said in a statement on Monday it would launch an "all-time war against Nigeria" from October 1, according to Rivers State spokesman Emmanuel Okah.

In its statement, the group advised oil majors to leave the delta, which pumps all of Nigeria's production of 2.3 million barrels per day. It also accused Royal Dutch Shell, Nigeria's largest oil producer, and Italy's Agip of "collaboration with the Nigerian state in acts of genocide" against the Ijaw. Anglo-Dutch Shell in Nigeria said on Tuesday that because of the unrest, it had shut a major flowstation producing some 28,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude. Asari told AFP on Tuesday he did not intend to destroy oil installations in the Niger Delta but insisted on his demand that all foreigners should leave the area. "I have not said I will destroy the petrol facilities," he said.

Asari read to AFP a copy of a statement released by the NDPVF at the end of its meeting on Monday, which said: "The session asked all foreign embassies to withdraw all their citizens from the Niger Delta until the resolution of the fundamental issues of self determination". These issues were self-determination itself, control of the region's resources and a sovereign national conference to discuss once and for all all the problems of Nigeria, he said. But the statement added: "The session advised that NDPVF will not take any responsability for any harm caused against foreign nationals after the issuance of this communique."

Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer and the fifth biggest in the Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The country derives more than 95 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from oil. Unrest in the Niger Delta has helped push world oil prices to record highs, with the cost per barrel bursting through the 50-dollar mark on Tuesday. The United States in particular counts on Nigeria as one of its main sources of the light, low-sulphur crude which is most suitable for refining into petrol.

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