| LAGOS, March 15
LAGOS, March 15 Nigerian militants detonated two
car bombs outside government talks on an amnesty programme in
the oil-producing Niger Delta on Monday, raising the prospect of
renewed unrest in Africa's biggest oil and gas industry.
The attacks are a setback for Acting President Goodluck
Jonathan, who has made peace in the region a top priority, but
who is also having to deal with unrelated insecurity in the zone
between the country's Muslim north and Christian south.
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Following are some questions and answers about the
implications of Monday's attacks in the oil city of Warri:
WHAT IS AT STAKE POLITICALLY AND ECONOMICALLY?
Last year's amnesty programme was the most comprehensive
attempt yet to end years of unrest in the Niger Delta, where
militant attacks have prevented the industry from pumping much
above two thirds of its 3 million barrels per day capacity.
Thousands of gunmen laid down weapons under the programme,
bringing six months of relative peace which enabled oil firms to
begin to repair damaged infrastructure and start to restore
production shut down by the insecurity.
The programme was driven by President Umaru Yar'Adua, who
returned from three months in a Saudi hospital last month but
remains too sick to govern.
Former militants who handed over guns had long complained
that promised stipends were going unpaid and pledges of
re-training were not seeing the light of day. Yar'Adua's absence
further slowed the programme's implementation.
Jonathan -- the first person from the Niger Delta to hold
Nigeria's highest office -- has pledged to work to revive the
amnesty and any failure to do so could be used by his political
enemies to undermine his authority.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND),
which claimed the Warri car bombs, warned of renewed attacks on
oil installations in the coming days including those of firms so
far largely unaffected, such as France's Total (TOTF.PA).
MEND has made such claims in the past, but if it lives up to
its threat, the amnesty programme could be derailed and
Nigeria's oil output could again fall, reducing government
revenues and threatening economic growth.
Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi said last year growth in
sub-Saharan Africa's second biggest economy hinged largely on a
solution being found to the unrest in the region, which has been
costing around $1 billion a month in lost oil revenues.
WHY IS THE NIGER DELTA IMPORTANT FOR ENERGY MARKETS?
The Niger Delta, a network of thousands of shallow creeks
opening into the Gulf of Guinea, is the heartland of Africa's
biggest oil and gas industry.
Its light crude oil is popular among U.S. and European
refiners as it can be easily processed into fuel products.
The United States, the world's top energy consumer, has said
it wants the Gulf of Guinea to supply a quarter of its crude oil
imports by the middle of the next decade. China depends on
Africa for some 30 percent of its oil imports.
Nigeria also holds the world's seventh largest proven gas
reserves and supplies 10 percent of global liquefied natural gas.
Attacks on Nigeria's oil and gas infrastructure last year helped
lift oil prices to record highs near $150 a barrel.
U.S. oil majors Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) and Chevron (CVX.N),
Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L), Italy's Agip (ENI.MI), and France's
Total (TOTF.PA) run major oil and gas operations with Nigeria's
state-run NNPC in the Niger Delta.
MEND has warned it will also go on to target the firms'
contractors and suppliers in any new attacks.
WHO ARE THE MILITANTS?
MEND is a nebulous group which emerged in late 2005 and has
been responsible for pipeline bombings and kidnapping both
foreign and Nigerian oil workers. It says it is fighting for
greater local control of oil resources.
MEND launched a series of attacks in September 2008, dubbed
a six-day "oil war", and carried out a raid on Royal Dutch
Shell's Bonga platform 120 km (75 miles) offshore in June 2008.
It has failed to carry out any attacks as spectacular as
those of early 2006 when it knocked out almost a quarter of
Nigerian output in a matter of weeks.
Its presumed leader, Henry Okah, accepted a presidential
offer of amnesty in July after gun-running and treason charges
against him were dropped and he was freed.
Most of the group's other known top field commanders also
accepted amnesty by the October deadline, and it is unclear what
operational capacity it has left.
But security experts noted that the attacks in Warri
appeared to have been a successful strike at what should be a
well-protected government building rather than MEND's usual
attacks on exposed oil pipelines.
(For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the
top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/ )
(Editing by Giles Elgood)