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Some Nigerians Demand End to Military Offensive in Restive Niger Delta

Nigerians with deep roots in the restive Niger Delta are expected to begin a protest march in the commercial capital Lagos, today (Tuesday) to press home their demands for an end to clashes in the region. This comes after President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua met Monday with governors in the area to assess the security situation in the Delta State. The planned protesters are demanding an end to what they described as a continuation of government onslaught on the innocent civilians in the region. The government has reportedly mobilized two Air Force bombers and 15 gunboats in pursuit of militants blamed for the insecurity in the Niger Delta.

Annkio Briggs is a human rights activist in the Niger Delta. She told VOA that the clashes have left scores injured and an unspecified number of people killed.

"Today, in Lagos, there would be a protest organized by Ijaw women with sympathizers for the Ijaw struggle and the genocide that is going on in Ijaw land right now," Briggs said.

She said the federal government prohibits protests in the restive region.

"We can't really organize such a protest anywhere in the Niger Delta because we won't be allowed to organize such a protest and it will draw attention to what is happening to the people of Ijaw nation," she said.

Briggs described as unfortunate the ongoing clashes in the region between the government and the militants which she said are having an adverse effect on the ordinary civilian population there.

"Here is a government that is waging war on its own people that is waging war on the people that is providing the wealth of this nation. The vice president is an Ijaw and since this thing started he was in Sweden and he has not been able to reach the president and he has not seen the president," Briggs said.

She expressed shock at the meeting between President Yar'Adua and some governors to assess the security situation in the restive region.

"I am amazed to hear that the president has a meeting with all the six governors," she said.

Briggs said the heavily armed national army has been launching attacks on the defenseless population in the region.

"Nigerian soldiers have descended on Ijaw in that area and are using all kinds of arsenals on them, jet fighters on the hapless people of the Niger Delta," Briggs said.

She claimed the meeting between the president and the governor would not solve the problems in the region.

"I don't think meetings need to be held by the president or by the governors for people to be able to know what is going on and what they should do to stop it," she said.

Briggs said the area has been deserted following the attacks by the national army.

"The whole place is completely abandoned there are dead bodies all over the place and it is appalling," Briggs said.

She sharply denied that residents of the restive oil rich region have been reluctant to hold negotiations with the government to address their concerns.

"The people of the Niger Delta have been suffering from neglect and abuse and looting of our resources for over 50 years. So, to say that Ijaws don't want to sit down and dialogue is not true Ijaws want dialogue and they want it very desperately," she said.

She was skeptical about holding discussions with people she described as occupiers.

"How do you dialogue with someone whom you are occupying? The Niger Delta, particularly the Ijaw territory of the Niger Delta is completely over run by one form of militarization or the other," she said.

There were initial reports suggesting that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) was planning a massive counterattack on strategic economic interests and government forces positions in the Niger Delta.

Meanwhile, the main militant group (MEND) said it has destroyed two oil pipelines in the southern Niger Delta during the region's worst outbreak of violence in months. In a Statement the group also said it has ordered the blockade of key channels for oil vessels as part of its campaign to cripple the country's multi-billion-dollar oil and gas industry.

The group accused Nigerian troops of indiscriminate use of missiles and bombs on several defenseless Ijaw communities in Delta State.

Militant groups in the Niger Delta have often claimed they are fighting for a better control of Nigeria's oil resources, although they are accused of operating like criminal gangs.

Some political observers say militant incessant attacks and bunkering on oil pipelines in the Niger Delta have cut Nigeria's output by around a fifth, helping push world oil prices to record highs since the beginning of 2006.