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Nigerian Delta Militant Wants Former Governor Released in 48 Hours

A Nigerian rebel leader wants the authorities to free a former governor charged with corruption or face renewed attacks on the oil industry. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports the threat comes at a time when the region's militants are urging a united front to cripple oil production.

Tom Pullo is regarded as the supreme rebel commander in oil-rich Delta state, the home of embattled former governor James Onanefe Ibori, who is facing corruption trial.

Pullo told VOA his group will hit hard at the beleaguered oil industry at the expiration of his deadline.

"That 48 hours to the oil and gas companies to leave the Niger Delta, or else let the Federal Republic of Nigeria come and face us, we are ready for the," he said. "If they do not leave James Onanefe Ibori, we are ready for them. They cannot keep Onanefe Ibori under key and lock. Ibori fought for resource control that is our right, and we want him out."

Pullo, who was involved in a series of attacks on the oil industry in the past, is also upset that President Umaru Yar'Adua has granted only one of the several demands made by armed groups in the region when they declared a ceasefire in June.

The demands include the release of former governor Diepreye Alamieyesiagha, the withdrawal of troops from the region, the granting of greater local access to oil revenues, and the appointment of an ethnic Ijaw from the Niger Delta as oil minister.

The government has not responded to the threat, but many in the oil industry see it as a worrying sign of renewed violence in the oil-producing region.

Key militant leaders are now pressing rebel factions in the Niger Delta to unify their positions and join in a massive onslaught against the troubled oil industry.

Large amounts of oil revenues have been stolen by the region's leaders, many of whom are believed to have links to the militants.

Bombings and attacks since early 2006 by armed groups in the volatile delta have cut Nigeria's estimated 2.5 million barrel daily crude production by more than 20 percent.

Any further escalation of tensions could have grave implications for the Nigerian economy, which relies heavily on oil revenues.