Diplomats shun Niger Delta

Western diplomats yesterday boycotted the Akwa Ibom State Economic and Investment Summit in Uyo, citing security concerns arising from the Niger Delta insurrection.

Prominent among those who stayed away from the event were the High Commissioner of Britain and the Ambassadors of the United States, France, Germany, Canada and Belgium.
The governor, Obong Victor Attah, announced at the opening of the summit yesterday that the British High Commissioner, Richard Grozney, in a message he sent to him, said they will not attend because of the increasing threat to their lives by the Niger Delta militia.

He said the high commissioner promised that they would cooperate when the threat goes away.
The Niger Delta militia has been campaigning for substantial financial allocations over oil wealth.
They have lately raised the stakes by blowing flow stations and oil pipelines and taking western oil workers as hostages.
Two weeks ago, they gave oil companies an ultimatum to leave the area or face the consequences.

The governor did not make further comments on the boycott.
Meanwhile, the militant group, The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which has been behind the spate of hostage taking in the Niger Delta, has threatened that it will extend its attack to other parts of the Niger Delta, especially Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River states as part of efforts to achieve its purpose of crippling the country�s ability to export crude oil if their demands are not met.

In a statement made available to some foreign media houses shortly after the release of six of the nine hostages on Wednesday, the group said it was shifting its attacks on oil installations and foreign interests from Bayelsa and Delta states where it has been wreaking havoc in the past two months to other areas.
The development has thrown oil workers at various rigs and platforms into panic even as residents of Port Harcourt have expressed fears over the development. Some respondents called on the governments of the other states in the Niger Delta to beef up security to protect lives and property of both the residents and foreigners alike.
MEND which represented its demands for the release of two prominent Ijaw sons under detention, payment of $1.5 billion to the Ijaw people by the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), and greater autonomy in the control of oil wealth by oil producing communities among others, vowed to continue its violent campaigns until the demands are met.

The group was said to be demanding a public apology from the federal government over what it called the assault on Gbaramatu community in Delta state.
The group, on Wednesday released six out of the nine oil workers it kidnapped on 18 February from Yorkiri, Forcados, a shell facility under the contract of Wilbros Limited.

Those released are Malcolm Hawkings, an American whose birthday coincided with the date of his release, Anthony Santos, a Filipino; Mhabnho Sontah and Arak Suwana both Thais; Shadly Aly and Phaiasal Mohammed, both Egyptians.
An Ijaw youth, Mr Oboko Bello, handed over the hostages to the governor of Delta state, Chief James Ibori at the Government House. Efforts are continuing for the release of the remaining hostages.

But the group has warned that it would continue kidnapping foreign oil workers until the government meets its demands.
As if in reaction to the development, the Rivers state government said yesterday that it was forging new strategies to provide sustainable development in the state.
Toward this end, two meetings have been held in London and recently in Port Harcourt with representatives of the federal government, American and British governments as well as development agencies like the World Bank, DFID, USAID and the major oil companies where agreements on partnership with the state government have been reached.
Speaking after the executive council meeting in Port Harcourt, the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia (SAN), said the new initiative will empower Rivers people and proffer solutions to problems of poverty and employment in the state.

He said it was the first time all the stakeholders are coming together for that purpose but was however silent on issues of security in the region.
Security which had been beefed up following the spate of kidnappings and armed robbery, we can report, has been relapsed but with the new development it is expected that the situation may be reviewed. The government has however said it would not consider the use of force in the resolution of the Niger Delta debacle.

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