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Nigerian clamps down on MEND militants

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Abuja, Nigeria (UPI) Oct 13, 2010
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has declared that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta will no longer provide a safe haven for criminals.

Presidential spokesman Ima Niboro said, "The president just returned from Zamfara and Sokoto states. It was successful and incident-free, in spite of the bomb threats by MEND.

"But the threats bring to focus the president's position that no one must hide underneath MEND to perpetrate evil. This is even more so since the MEND known to Nigerians has willingly renounced violence. So which MEND was this? The Zamfara variant? This nonsense must stop and this is precisely the president's position," The Leadership newspaper reported Tuesday.

On Oct. 1, during Nigeria's celebrations commemorating 50 year of independence, two car bombs exploded in the capital Abuja, killing 12 people. Nine people were subsequently arrested, including Nigerian media mogul Raymond Dokpesi, who has filed a lawsuit against the secret police.

Dokpesi owns one of Nigeria's biggest television networks, Africa Independent Television and is overseeing the political campaign of former military ruler Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Babangida is challenging Jonathan for the right to become Nigeria's governing party's presidential candidate.

MEND subsequently e-mailed a statement to reporters saying it regretted "the avoidable loss of lives."

Jonathan however denied MEND's involvement, saying instead that the attacks were mounted a small terrorist group from outside Nigeria that is being sponsored by "unpatriotic elements within the country," despite the fact that MEND had notified journalists about an hour before the blast that it had placed bombs near the site of independence day events.

Reputed MEND leader Henry Okah, one of nine arrested in the aftermath of the bombings is accusing Jonathan of trying to gain political advantage from the attacks, commenting that Jonathan wants to the attacks on northern Nigerian factions trying to derail his attempts to win a second term.

Okah, currently detained in South Africa, told Al-Jazeera during an interview that he was contacted by a high-level aide to Jonathan in the wake of the bombing to inform him that Jonathan wanted him to contact MEND officials and persuade them to retract their statement claiming responsibility for the attacks.

Further muddying the picture, former militant Victor Ebokawe, known also as General Boyloaf, stated that because Jonathan is from the region, he understands its problems and could use his local knowledge to advance a regional solution.

Factionalism is rife in Nigeria with 150 million population scattered over 350 tribes. MEND, was formed in 2006 to protest the central government's exploitation of the country's oil reserves. In the past four years MEND attacks have succeeded in reducing Nigeria's oil production by one-third, causing global oil prices to rise.

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