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BBC Monitoring Service: Nigerian Delta militants suspend talks following attacks

Text of report by Chido Okafor: “Hostages: Militants Halt Release” published by Nigerian newspaper The Guardian website on 19 March
Chances of early release of the remaining three hostages held by militants in Delta State got slimmer at the weekend following reported attacks on the youths negotiating freedom for the captives.
The alleged attacks on the Ijaw youth leaders was said to have been carefully coordinated in the morning yesterday by unknown persons “dressed in full military gear.”
President Obasanjo's media assistant, Mrs Remi Oyo, however, told The Guardian, last night that the Federal Government was not aware of the said attacks.
She said she was not aware of any military action against the youth.
“The federal government is not directly involved in the negotiations with the youths,” she said, adding that no report of military clash with militants had been lodged with the presidency.
It was learnt that one of the American hostages was billed for release today, to mark the exit of the former task force commander for the Niger Delta, Brig. Gen. Elias Zamani.
Zamani's withdrawal from the area was one of the pre-conditions for the release of the nine hostages seized about three weeks ago by militants operating on the platform of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
Six of the hostages were eventually released, leaving two Americans and a Briton, whom the militants vowed not to free until their demands were met.
The redeployment of Zamani was seen as a window of opportunity for a fruitful negotiation of freedom for the captives, who have reportedly been separated by the militants “for strategic reasons.”
But weekend's reported attacks on the youth negotiators may have worsened a bad situation that had drawn sympathy from across the globe, and which the Federal Government had re-pledged yesterday to resolve within the ambit of negotiation.
Indeed, spokesman of the Ijaw Youths Leadership Forum, Kingsley Kuku told The Guardian yesterday, that the early morning selected attacks on the Ijaw youths' negotiating team by a secret killer squad had nullified the release plans.
Narrating the incidents, Kuku said some heavily armed men dressed in full military gear stormed the Warri home of George Timinimi, one of the negotiators, in three vehicles, and tried to kill him but he scaled the fence and fled into the bush, sustaining minor injuries in the process.
He disclosed that some other Ijaw youth leaders experienced similar attacks by the group dressed in military gear, stressing that this had scared off the negotiators and dimmed future prospect of negotiation with the captors, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.
“It appears we have been targeted for elimination and based on this, all the Ijaw youths leaders, who were negotiating have suspended further negotiation,” Kuku said.
The 19 Ijaw youth leaders had met last week in Effurun with government officials led by the Secretary to the Delta State Government (SSG), Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan and the Commissioner for Ethnic Relations and Conflict Resolution, Mr Ovuozorie Macaulay. The meeting was to find a way out of the hostage stand off.
At the end of the parley, the youths had issued a fresh nine-point demand to the Federal Government, thus lengthening the list of such demands.
They noted the “marginalisation and exclusion of the Ijaw people and the refusal of the Nigerian State to seriously address the demands of the Ijaw people in over fifty years of peaceful agitation.”
The Ijaw youth leaders said the continued militarisation of the Niger Delta was escalating tension in the region, remarking that “the Ijaw people continue to be locked out of the oil economy while suffering the effects of oil exploitation on their lands and waters.”
However, they demanded the unconditional release of the Niger Delta pro-democracy and self-determination activist, Alhaji Mujaheed Dokubo-Asari and his lawyer, Uche Okwukwu.
They also requested the release of leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Chief Ralph Uwazurike and founder and leader of Oodua Peoples Organization (OPC), Dr Frederick Fasehun and Mr Gani Adams respectively.
Dokubo-Asari, Uwazurike, Fasehun and Adams are standing trial in court for alleged treason offences bordering on running illegal organizations, gun-running and crimes against the State.
Other demands by the Ijaw youths are:
DSP Alamieyeseigha (impeached governor of Bayelsa State) be given free, fair and expeditious trial so that his travails would not be seen as a demonstration of the singling out and persecution of an Ijaw leader amongst corrupt political office holders in Nigeria. (He is standing trial for alleged money laundering.)
The Federal Government enters into genuine dialogue with Ijaw people to address issues of economic, political and social exclusion.
Shell complies with the Federal High Court order to pay 1.5bn [] to Ijaws of Bayelsa State.
The 18 per cent derivation recommended by the Senator Ibrahim Mantu National Assembly Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution “is vexatious, and nothing short of 25 per cent to be graduated to 50 per cent as demanded by the South-South people at the National Political Reform Conference remains the minimum point of departure on this issue.”
The International Community be called upon to prevail on the Federal Government to negotiate with the Ijaw in the interest of the security of the nation.
The Ijaw youth leaders, however, called for the release of the remaining three hostages.
Source: The Guardian website, Lagos, in English 19 Mar 06

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