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Page last updated at 22:33 GMT, Sunday, 22 June 2008 23:33 UK

Nigerian militants call ceasefire

File photo of Niger Delta militant
The move marks a sudden U-turn for Mend militants

The militant group behind some of the worst attacks on Nigeria's oil infrastructure and the kidnap of oil workers has announced a ceasefire.

The group, the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) said it followed an appeal made by elders in the region to give peace and dialogue another chance.

It said that there would be no more attacks from midnight on Tuesday until further notice.

Only last week the group launched the first attack on an offshore oil site.

Nigeria's president ordered tighter security in the Delta after the attack on the Shell installation at Bonga, 120km (75 miles) out to sea, which cut Nigerian production by 10%.

It was the first time militants had struck at Nigeria's hugely valuable offshore oil fields, far out to sea, which had previously been considered relatively safe from attack.

Also, over the weekend, the US oil giant Chevron has halted onshore oil production at its Escravos oilfield after an attack on a pipeline.

The Nigerian military said militants blew up the Niger Delta pipeline, but Mend said it had been contacted by "youths" who had said they were behind the attack.

Arms rife

Disruptions to Nigerian output caused by militant attacks have been a significant driver in the soaring worldwide price of oil.

The unilateral ceasefire, announced by Mend in an email to media outlets on Sunday, marked a sudden U-turn for the group, which earlier in the weekend had warned all foreign oil workers to leave the Niger Delta.

With the government planning to hold a major summit of Niger Delta leaders and more money expected to flow to the Niger Delta, perhaps the armed groups there feel it is a good time to show how relevant they are to any chance of peace, says the BBC's Alex Last in Lagos.

Nigeria's military is ill-equipped, while arms are proliferating in Nigeria's oil producing region, our correspondent says.

Mend says it wants to secure more autonomy and control over resources for the Niger Delta, but the conflict now is a complex web involving armed gangs, political corruption and criminal rackets, he says.


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