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Battle Over Oil Fuels Nigeria Violence, says Rights Group

A U.S.-based human rights group blames disputes over oil riches for continued violence in Nigeria, and offers suggestions for improvements.

A report by Human Rights Watch says deadly violence in the Niger Delta this year was driven by disputes over both government resources and control of the theft of crude oil.

The report's author, Bronwen Manby, says those instigating violence include ethnic militias, gangs protecting elected officials and security forces trying to extract money from others.

"The wealth itself generates problems because people fight for the money and that is both politicians who organize militia thugs to encourage people to vote for them or to organize the votes to be decided in their favor," explained Ms. Manby. "But also there is quite widespread theft of crude oil directly from oil pipelines, and again the people carrying out the theft of oil are quite heavily armed and are fighting for control of that trade so that the conflict is driven by people who are fighting for resources in one way or another, either official government resources or the revenue from crude oil which is stolen straight from oil pipelines."

The Delta State produces 40 percent of Nigeria's two million barrels a day of crude oil, while illegally bunkered oil in the area accounts for up to 10 percent of total national production.

The report says politicians and those who head the illegal rackets are often the same people.

Elections are often a time when violence peaks. During state and federal elections in April and May, hundreds of people were killed, oil production was temporarily shut down, and thousands of people were displaced.

Human Rights Watch says new elections should be held, because the last ones were rigged. It says fraud and electoral violence made local populations disillusioned with the process.

The report also says legitimate crude oil should be certified by identifying it through its chemical fingerprints, so that the trade of stolen oil can be stopped.

Human Rights Watch also calls on those responsible for oil crimes, including state officials, to be brought to justice. Officials, both at the state and federal level, refused to comment on the release of the report.

Oil analysts have termed some of the problems as the "paradox of plenty," whereby plenty of oil often leads to corruption, violence and increased poverty.