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Analysts Skeptical over Militant Truce Appeal in Nigeria

Analysts in Nigeria's oil industry say they are skeptical the government of newly sworn-in President Umaru Yar'Adua will be able to end the violence in the Niger Delta. A main militant group says it will give the government one month to adopt new policies in the oil-rich region. Meanwhile, many foreign workers remain kidnapped, including six who were abducted on Sunday. Selah Hennessy has more from our West Africa bureau in Dakar.

In his inaugural speech last week, the new president of Nigeria, Umaru Yar'Adua, called for unity and peace in the country. He said that solving the problems of the Niger Delta will be one of his main priorities as president.

One of the country's main militant groups, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, known as MEND, has responded by offering a one-month ceasefire to allow the government to form a peace plan.

But MEND has also warned that violence will continue unless the government makes a genuine effort toward dialogue.

The militants have been increasing their violent attacks in the oil-rich Delta. Dozens of foreign workers have been kidnapped this year. The workers are usually released unharmed after a ransom is paid.

The militants say they are fighting for a greater share of the country's oil wealth for local communities. Some groups are also demanding that militant leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari be released from prison.

Nnamdi Obasi, a senior analyst at Brussels-based International Crisis Group, speaking from Abuja, he says that Mr. Yar'Adua's inaugural speech did not meet the expectations of MEND members and he believes that means more violence for the Niger Delta.

"Their response has been that the address says nothing at all," said Obasi. "They expected something concrete to be offered by the president which he did not offer and for that reason they are stepping up their military attacks against personnel and installations so nothing is getting better at all for now."

Obasi says it will be difficult to bring peace to the Delta, because there is a fundamental difference between what the militants are demanding and the new government's goals for the Niger Delta.

"The government is coming up with a master plan, it was actually created under the previous administration, a multimillion dollar master plan for developing the Niger Delta over the next twenty year period and the government thinks that is a very generous gesture in putting down a lot of money in the Niger Delta," continued Obasi.

But Obasi says investment is not all that the militants are fighting for.

"They believe that there has to be a fundamental amendment of the constitution that will allow them greater control and ownership of the resources on their land," he said.

Joseph Croft, a specialist with the non-profit organization Stakeholder Democracy Network, says that the recent presidential election, which national and international observers said was deeply flawed, has left President Yar'Adua's government in a weak position.

"He does have a small window of opportunity to really deliver programs to the ground, but at the same time if they don't hit the ground running as it were and you don't see real projects impacting on the lives of the poorest people in the Niger Delta, I think you are likely to see an increase in activity by armed groups and interest in people using violence to air their grievance and challenge the state, because the state does not have any legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of the people in the Niger Delta at the moment and that's a very worrying situation," said Croft.

Croft says the government has announced a long series of interventions to deal with the causes of the problems in the Niger Delta. But he says the results of such projects are rarely felt by the people most in need of aid.

"What the government needs to do and what it isn't doing is focusing on the smaller, more needy projects like water, health care, access to education and really making sure that is delivered to the people first and then it can worry about the big prize projects that turn into contract cows for those in power," he added.

Many civilians in the Niger Delta say they agree with the message of the militants, but not their methods. Some also say the militants keep all the money they make from hostage-taking for themselves, and engage in battles over territory as well, making matters even worse.

Nigeria is Africa's top oil producer, but all of its crude is pumped from the Delta, and the unrest has repeatedly forced oil exports down.