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Negotiations with Nigerian Demonstrators Continue - 2002-07-17

Negotiations continue in Nigeria between executives of the U.S.-based oil company ChevronTexaco and a group of demonstrators who have occupied an offshore oil terminal for more than a week. The negotiators are trying to rescue a deal that collapsed late Tuesday.

Officials with Chevron Nigeria say they offered to meet some of the demands made by a group of local women.

Chevron Nigeria's executive in charge of maintaining relations with local communities, Sola Omole, says the company believes the deal it offered to the women addresses their requests for more jobs and help to the communities. "This [deal] would mean improvements in the surrounding communities," he said. "It would mean additional employment opportunities as we strategically determine the number of people that we might need going forward."

The women refused to sign the deal because, they said, the oil company executives' commitments were not specific. A spokeswoman for the demonstrators told reporters Chevron offered to provide jobs, but did not commit to an actual number.

The demonstrators invaded the Escravos oil terminal and tank farm on July 8. They trapped more than 1,000 workers for several days by blocking the docks and aircraft landing facilities.

Chevron officials say that as negotiations progressed, the women started letting workers come and go. The protesters also gave up their positions in the control room, allowing the terminal to resume operations.

The women now are refusing to leave the island until their demands are fully satisfied.

Some have threatened to take off their clothes in front of Chevron officials as a sign of protest. In some West African cultures, women sometimes disrobe as a means of bringing shame to men who offend them by not treating them fairly.

Standoffs like the one at the Escravos terminal are common in Nigeria. Residents of areas surrounding oil facilities often stage protests, demanding that oil companies invest more in their communities.

Nigeria is a chief producer of oil in Africa, yet nearly half the people in the country live below the poverty line.