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Nigeria's Fragile Oil Truce Holds Little Promise

Despite a cease-fire declaration by the main rebel group in the Niger Delta, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the violence in Nigeria's oil-rich southern region looks far from over. The Nigerian army says it would continue to fight criminal gangs in the oil-producing region, setting the stage for a possible clash with oil rebels who are threatening massive retaliation if attacked. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports.

The unilateral cease-fire is conditional with MEND which states that it would attack again if the Nigerian army struck any of its positions. The army's declaration that it would continue its crackdown on criminal gangs in the Niger Delta appears to put it on a collision course with the militants again.

The military authorities are said to be beefing up security around oil installations to reduce their vulnerability to militant attacks. Armed groups say their goal is to shut-in all of Nigeria's oil exports.

The government is not close to responding to the demands of the rebels, which include a more equitable distribution of the country's oil wealth, compensation for decades of oil pollution and the release of a top militant.

Some militants are also pushing for autonomy for the oil-rich region, or possibly an outright secession.

Tom Polo is a rebel commander in the Niger Delta. Polo says the rebels are sick and tired of the current state of affairs and would like to control the region's resources. We see that they call us militants, he said, and adds that he and his forces are soldiers of Gbaramatu Republic.

The government says MEND and its affiliates are criminal gangs, motivated by profits such as ransoms and the stealing of crude.

The lines between militancy and crime are blurred in the Delta, a vast wetlands in the south of Nigeria that is home to the entire OPEC member nation's oil wealth.

The region witnessed a string of attacks on oil facilities by militant groups last week.

Nigeria's state oil company has reported a drop in production of 280,000 barrels per day since MEND launched what it described as an oil war in the Delta. The group declared a conditional cease-fire on Sunday.