Oct 16 (Reuters) - Nigeria’s main militant group ended its three-month old ceasefire on Friday and threatened to resume attacks against Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry.
But the rebel group has been severely weakened after its senior leaders and thousands of others accepted clemency and disarmed in the last few weeks.
It is unclear who is running MEND after key militant commanders — Government Tompolo, Ateke Tom and Farah Dagogo — surrendered their machine guns, rocket launchers and explosives in return for President Umaru Yar’Adua’s unconditional pardon.
The government’s amnesty offer, which expired earlier this month, was the most serious attempt yet to resolve years of unrest which has prevented Nigeria from pumping more than two thirds of its oil capacity.
Here are some details on the three former MEND leaders.
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A former gang leader in Rivers State in the eastern Niger Delta for around a decade, Ateke Tom set up the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV), one of several groups to enjoy strong backing from politicians who used them to help rig elections.
The NDV was involved in some of the heaviest clashes in years in the oil hub of Port Harcourt in July and August 2007, when more than 100 people died in fighting with a rival gang involving automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.
Tom had largely operated independently of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the umbrella militant group in the region, but his faction claimed at least two attacks against the oil industry last year.
Security sources say he was also heavily involved in oil bunkering, a lucrative trade in industrial quantities of stolen crude smuggled onto the international market.
Also based in Rivers state, Dagogo started out as a top commander loyal to former militant leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, whose Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force turned over thousands of weapons in return for amnesty in 2004.
Dagogo then set up camp on his own before becoming one of the founding field commanders of MEND, which knocked out a quarter of Nigerian oil output when it burst onto the scene with a series of attacks in early 2006.
Dagogo is loyal to Henry Okah, the suspected leader of MEND who was on trial for gun-running and treason before being released in July after accepting Yar’Adua’s amnesty offer.
Full name Government Ekpemupolo, he was one of the leaders of the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC), based in the western city of Warri and responsible for shutting down a large chunk of oil output from the western delta in 2003.
Tompolo is believed to have been key to drawing together the factions which went on to form MEND.
He is responsible in particular for attacks on Chevron (CVX.N) and thought to be a major oil bunkerer. Security forces used helicopters and gunboats to attack his camps around Warri, capital of Delta state, in May this year.
Sources: International Crisis Group, public statements by Mujahid Asari-Dokubo, security sources (Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Charles Dick) (For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/ )