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Protests over amnesty delays hit Nigeria oil delta

* Protests erupt in at least two cities

* Activists fear attacks on oil industry could resume

* Militant group says reviewing ceasefire

PORT HARCOURT/YENEGOA, Nigeria, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Security forces have deployed in two cities in Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta in the past two days to disperse former militants protesting over the non-payment of amnesty allowances.

Activists say the government is not keeping the promises it made during an amnesty period earlier this year and that the region, which is home to Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry, risks returning to violence.

More than half a dozen armoured vehicles and four truckloads of armed police deployed in the Amarata neighbourhood of Yenegoa, capital of Bayelsa state, on Wednesday to disperse former militants demanding stipends, a Reuters witness said.

The men said they were owed 300,000 naira ($2,000) each promised in return for laying down their weapons earlier this year, but that the government had failed to pay up.

Similar protests broke out in Warri, the main oil city in neighbouring Delta state, on Tuesday with scores of former fighters loyal to ex-militant leader Government Tompolo demonstrating outside the guest house where he is staying before they were dispersed by the security forces.

“The ex-militants are already feeling used and abandoned. Their allowances are not paid as and when due and they are blaming their leaders for their woes,” said Akinaka Richard, head of Grassroots Initiative for Peace and Democracy, a rights group based in the main Niger Delta hub of Port Harcourt.

“The (former militant) leaders themselves are beginning to feel that the government wants to turn their boys against them. Some of the ex-militants feel betrayed by their leaders and the amnesty committee that rehabilitation camps were not provided.”

Militant attacks on the oil industry in the vast wetlands region have prevented the OPEC member from pumping much above two thirds of its 3 million barrels per day (bpd) production capacity, costing it an estimated $1 billion a month.

The growth of sub-Saharan Africa’s second-biggest economy hinges on lasting peace being achieved in the delta. President Umaru Yar’Adua’s amnesty offer, which ended in October, is part of the most concerted effort yet to end years of unrest.


Thousands of guns, grenades and rounds of ammunition were surrendered under the amnesty, but security sources said from the start that peace would only last if those who disarmed were quickly re-trained and found work. [ID:nL5719632]

Defence Minister Godwin Abbe said in October a two-month process would begin straight away to document ex-fighters, helping some go back to school and giving loans to those with skills to set up in trade. But there has been little progress.

The absence of Yar’Adua, who has been in Saudi Arabia for more than a month receiving treatment for a heart complaint, has further heightened tensions. Activists say the government is using his absence as an excuse to stall.

The umbrella militant group in the region, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), said on Saturday its fighters, armed with rocket launchers and machine guns, carried out a “warning strike” on a major oil pipeline.

It said the pipeline in Abonemma, Rivers state, was operated by either Royal Dutch Shell RDSa.L or Chevron CVX.N. Neither company, nor the military taskforce which polices the region, have since confirmed any attack took place. [ID:nLDE5BI02S]

But the group, responsible for most of the major attacks on oil infrastructure over the past 3-1/2 years, warned it was reviewing a ceasefire declared in October because of the slow progress being made in implementing the terms of the amnesty.

“I have a strong fear that what happened is just the tip of the iceberg if the federal government allows the post-amnesty programme to derail,” said Jonjon Oyeinfe, a leading activist and ex-president of the Ijaw Youth Council ethnic rights group.

Oyeinfe was among those who lobbied the federal government to go ahead with the amnesty programme but said the “political wing” of the militant struggle had since been sidelined.

"The situation is very precarious. The ex-militants are beginning to lose confidence in the competency and ability of those managing the post-amnesty programme," he said. (For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: ) (Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Giles Elgood)