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Nigerian Military Steps up Security in Niger Delta

The Nigerian army has reinforced security presence in the oil-producing Niger Delta, after the region's leading militant group declared it may resume attacks on the oil industry when a 60-day cease-fire expires on Tuesday.

The rebel Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta's threat to resume acts of sabotage against the oil industry has prompted deep concerns in the restive region. Residents believe that a military backlash will follow any such attack. A youth leader in the Niger Delta, Preye Ketebu, is urging restraint by the security forces.

"If this happens, maybe some facilities may be destroyed and all that," he said. "They [military] should just focus on protecting facilities and not waiting to retaliate and using the attack that may happen as excuse to invade communities where they suspect harbor militants."

The government is implementing an amnesty program aimed at stopping militants from attacking the oil industry. Some rebel groups were quick to accept the amnesty, but MEND is holding out for a larger agreement.

The governor of the Niger Delta state, Bayelsa, Timipre Sylva, says MEND has been significantly weakened by the decision of some key commanders to accept the amnesty and no longer represents a threat to the oil industry.

"Who is left in MEND? I do not believe there is anything called MEND, because the key people who propelled MEND have all said they are not in it anymore," said Slyva.

Despite the ongoing amnesty and a drop-off in violence, the Niger Delta remains a stronghold of gangs and militants groups. Militants have an easy target in the oil industry's network of pipes spread out over a vast wetland region.

A spokesman for the government's Joint Task Force in charge of security in the Niger Delta, Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Antigha, says the military has taken measures to forestall attacks in the area.

"Even though the amnesty is in progress, the Joint Task Force has not been disbanded," he said. "And, we have been on ground and the Joint Task Force will continue to be on ground. And, so there is no need for anyone to panic. The Joint Task Force wishes to assure all residents, including foreigners, in the Niger Delta that there is no need to panic."

Insecurity has long plagued Nigeria's oil industry, with local communities in the delta angry at their continued poverty despite five decades of oil extraction by foreign firms.

The amnesty program, which runs until October Fourth, aims to disarm, educate and rehabilitate militants and criminals in the Niger Delta. The government hopes as many as 20,000 gunmen could participate.