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Rights Group: Nigerian Militias Funded by Government

An international human rights body says Nigerian government funding is fueling deadly fighting between rival armed groups in the oil rich Niger Delta region. It is calling for an investigation in the matter.

New York based Human Rights Watch released a report Friday, saying that there are direct links between ethnic militias in the Delta region and government officials.

Researcher Sonya Maldar, says that young unemployed men were given weapons by local leaders to initially help them win an election victory. The weapons were later used to fuel efforts to control oil wealth and government funds.

"What our research shows is that at one point, senior members of the state government supported the leaders of armed groups, so they provided financial assistance in order for these armed groups to secure their election victory, so to intimidate opposition opponents during the 2003 election. Now this, over the last year, has spun out of control," she said.

The federal government brokered a peace agreement between the two main rival armed groups in October, and later gave amnesty to the fighters. Human Rights Watch identified the main perpetrators of the violence as the leaders of the two groups, the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force, led by Mujahid Asari Dokubo and the Niger Delta Vigilante, led by Ateke Tom.

Mr. Asari Dokubo told VOA in an interview last year that his fight was not about money, but for his ethnic group, the Ijaw. Many Ijaws believe other ethnic groups are favored by oil companies and some government leaders .

"I am not the movement,” he said. “There is the movement, and the movement is greater than an individual. If anything would happen to me, it would have been terrible for the Nigerian state. This war is older than me and this war it is the will of God, because I'm a believer in God, I'm a Muslim. The war will outlive me."

Human Rights Watch says that fighting has killed dozens of civilians and caused tens of thousands of displaced since 2003.

Militias are also active in tapping oil from pipelines and selling crude to tankers waiting off shore. Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer, but the Niger Delta where most of the oil produced remains one of the poorest areas of the country.