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Nigerian Army Rejects Calls to Withdraw from the Niger Delta

The Nigerian army says it would continue to fight criminal gangs in the oil-producing Niger Delta while observing the terms of a government offer. The main militant group, which wants the military-led security task force to withdraw from the delta, has shunned the amnesty offer.

The military says it will halt attacks while the amnesty lasts and will only respond if attacked. The Joint Task Force [JTF], whose primary purpose is the protection of oil personnel and facilities in the region, has ruled out pulling out of the Niger Delta as demanded by the principal rebel group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.

Spokesman for the troops, Colonel Rabe Abubakar, told VOA that the blockade of key waterways in the Niger Delta to prevent the stealing of crude, known locally as bunkering, and other criminal acts would continue. He said law-abiding residents have nothing to fear. "The JTF [Joint Task Force] has stopped people from doing illegal bunkering, from militancy where they extort money from people. So they are seeing all those things to be a threat to their survival, so they want the JTF to be folded up so that they can go back to their illicit business of oil bunkering, of kidnapping. The call is premature and those who are calling for withdrawal have some obnoxious attachment to the call. At an opportune time, if normalcy returns, our political leaders will decide on what to do next. That decision rests on them," he said.

Militants in the region claim they are fighting for a greater share of oil wealth for local people. The breakdown of law and order has made the line between a militant and common criminal difficult to distinguish.

The stealing of crude oil by armed gangs, pirates and their foreign collaborators costs Nigeria millions of dollars in lost revenue every year.

The government has deployed thousands of troops in the Niger Delta, a vast network of mangrove creeks in southern Nigeria, to check bunkering. Military gunboats have been positioned throughout the region to block waterways and restrict passage for smugglers vessels.

Hydrocarbons account for more than 90 percent of Nigeria's exports and at least 80 percent of government revenue. With revenue down sharply down this year, the Nigeria government is desperate to push through a peace deal.

As many as 10,000 militants in the troubled Niger Delta could benefit from an amnesty offered by the Nigerian government aimed at ending attacks which have crippled the country's oil industry.