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Nigeria's Oil Crisis Talks Falter Over Mediator

Ethnic leaders and influential groups from Nigeria's unruly Niger Delta have rejected a government nominee to head talks on the unrest in the oil-rich region. The main armed group in the delta says it will not attend the conference. From Abuja, Gilbert da Costa reports many analysts are now skeptical the long-awaited summit will achieve much.

The administration of President Umaru YarAdua has repeatedly assured that a political solution to the Niger Delta crisis is a priority. Mr. YarAdua moved swiftly, after taking office, to engage the delta militants, promising to address their grievances and pledging formal talks.

The government-sponsored summit has been touted as a major breakthrough in efforts to ease tensions and threats to Nigeria's oil production.

The government says the appointment of former U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari as a mediator gives the Niger Delta issue a global perspective.

But several of the delta region's leaders are not impressed with the choice of Gambari, a Muslim from northern Nigeria. Militant leader Tom Pullo spoke to VOA by telephone.

"We do not want an Hausa man to come and discuss Niger Delta matter," he said. "We shall resolve our matter."

The main armed group in the Niger Delta - the Movement for the Emancipation of the Delta - has said it will not participate in the summit unless its presumed leader, who is standing trial on treason charges, is released.

Critics say five decades of oil extraction from the delta by foreign companies have polluted its land and water, leaving villages impoverished while corrupt politicians and criminal gangs enrich themselves with lucrative trade in stolen crude.

Pullo says the government must take concrete measures to boost development in the Niger Delta if it is to prevent attacks that have cut Nigeria's oil production by a quarter since early 2006.

"There is no equal rights and justice, as far as we are concerned," he said. "You cannot, for example, set up a Niger Delta Development Commission to empower them with money and you are not giving them the money to develop the Niger Delta."

It is not clear if Gambari will be replaced as chair before the summit, which is expected to get underway later this month.