Rebels from Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta said they had called
off a unilateral cease-fire they declared in September in response to
what they said was an attack by the Nigerian army on one of its
positions. Residents of the unruly region, who had endured insecurity
in the past three years, are now bracing for increased violence.
The Nigerian military,
lacking local knowledge and equipment, struggles to avoid ambushes in
the vast creeks and mangrove swamps of the Niger Delta, where the
populist rhetoric of the militants has won them support.
Harcourt-based Niger Delta analyst, Sofiri Peterside, says while the
militants have proved effective in ambushes and surprise attacks, they
lack the capacity to engage in full-scale battles with the government
military. Doctor Peterside says the militant's decision to resume
crippling attacks on security forces and the oil industry is bound to
increase tensions in the region.
"I don't see the militants
possessing the capacity of engaging the military in a full-scale
battle," he said. "On the basis of what has happened in the past, what
I'm seeing is that there is likely to be a situation where there will
be escalation of violence."
"The military may be protecting a particular
installation and the militants may decide to change their own
operational tactics. There is every likelihood that tensions in the
region will escalate. The tendency is that very innocent people may be
affected," he added.
The main militant group, the Movement for the
Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, which has been holding two
British hostages for more than four weeks, declared a ceasefire last
September but had repeatedly warned it would resume attacks if provoked.
The group warned the oil industry to prepare for what it called 'Hurricane Obama,' beginning Saturday.
Peterside says the government has not paid sufficient attention to the
humanitarian crises engendered by clashes between security forces and
militants in the past.
"The humanitarian tragedies and the
humanitarian emergencies which these conflicts have thrown up, have not
received the attention of government," he said. "In most cases,
children, women and the aged have suffered, communities have been wiped
off and no attempt or project to bring relief to these people. So, I
suspect, just as it happened in Tombias axis, that innocent people will
again be affected and that creates refugee problems, which serious
attention has not been paid to."
The Niger Delta conflict has
simmered for over a decade. Government crackdowns or offers of peace
talks have had little effect on the rebellion. Grievances are rooted in
the region's deep poverty and environmental degradation.