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Nigeria says bombing will not stop amnesty program

YENAGOA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Bombing by Nigeria’s biggest militant group in its oil delta this week will not derail an amnesty deal meant to restore security to Africa’s largest energy industry, government and security sources said on Tuesday.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) detonated two bombs outside a government building in the oil city of Warri on Monday as officials met for talks about implementing the terms of the amnesty.

The attack raised fears of a renewed campaign of violence by MEND that could scupper the most comprehensive peace effort in the region for years and send the country’s oil output back into decline just as it has started to recover.

Unrest in the Niger Delta has prevented the OPEC member nation from pumping much above two thirds of its 3 million barrels per day (bpd) oil capacity in recent years, costing it as much as $1 billion a month in lost revenues.

“The bombing will not stop us from doing what we are supposed to do,” said Niger Delta Minister Ufot Ekaette, who was in the building in Warri when the explosions happened.

“We will continue to work hard to (realize) the program of the amnesty. That is the best we can do under the present circumstances,” he told reporters in the capital Abuja.

Speaking to Reuters in Vienna ahead of an OPEC summit, Oil Minister Rilwanu Lukman said the majority of militants who took part in last year’s amnesty were still behind the peace plans.

“Very generous provisions were made for the militants in the amnesty. They’re being re-trained, re-habilitated and many things are being done. It is a matter of continuing to do what we can,” he said.

The attack on a relatively high-profile event in what should be a secure building were the first by MEND since the amnesty began last year and marked a departure from the group’s usual tactics of blowing up remote and exposed pipelines.

The group’s statement claiming the attack was also overtly political, raising concern among security analysts that targeted strikes will recur as Nigeria enters the campaign period for federal, state and local elections due by April next year.

“The governors of the Niger Delta are shameless and visionless stooges who are more concerned with looting their state treasuries and seeking a second term in office, even against the wishes of their people,” MEND’s statement said.

“WAKE-UP CALL”

Another militant faction, the Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC) condemned the attack, describing it as “an act of evil”.

“We believe that this is the handiwork of a dementia inflicted cabal who have cunningly infiltrated the just and noble struggle,” the JRC said in a statement.

The car bombs are a potential setback for Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, who has made restoring peace in the Niger Delta a top priority since he took over executive powers in the absence of ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua.

The fact Jonathan is the first Ijaw -- the main ethnic group in the Niger Delta -- to hold the country’s highest political office had generated some goodwill among the main militant factions, who did not want to “embarrass” one of their own.

But an amnesty committee led by Defense Minister Godwin Abbe has made little concrete progress on implementing the amnesty terms since Jonathan took over, with delays to promised stipends and retraining for those who laid down weapons.

“It is a shot across the bows of a slow-moving government vessel. It is not the end of the road, but it is a wake-up call,” one security contractor said, asking not to be named.

Additional reporting by Joe Brock in Vienna, Segun Owen in Yenagoa, Felix Onuah in Abuja; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Louise Ireland

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