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UK forces resist plan to help in Niger delta

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UK forces resist plan to help in Niger delta

By James Blitz and William Wallis in London

Published: July 12 2008 03:00 | Last updated: July 12 2008 03:00

Gordon Brown faces strong resistance to his plan to help Nigeria restore order in its main oil-producing region, with Britain’s defence chiefs fearing it would further stretchtheir resources.

The UK prime minister, who is to meet Umaru Yar’Adua, the president of Nigeria, in London next week, said he wanted to assist in protecting pipelines and shipping lanes in the Niger Delta.

He is considering offering maritime training for the Nigerian armed forces to make oil installations less vulnerable to looting.

The plans do not include deployment of British troops in significant numbers, but the country’s defence ministry is said to be resistant, warning it might further stretch military resources.

“This idea is not about sending in more troops, but it would still mean gifting the Nigerians with stuff, giving them kit,” said a senior Whitehall official. “As a result there is a bit of a spat going on over what the prime minister wants to give and what the MoD is willing to do.”

Mr Brown believes it is important to shore up security in the region because of the impact of lawlessness on Nigeria’s oil supply. Unrest in the delta has cut its capacity to pump oil by a quarter in recent months.

However, the idea of boosting maritime training for the Nigerian armed forces must overcome several hurdles if it is to be realised, not just the MoD’s resistance.

British officials admit it is far from clear whether Mr Yar’Adua would accept such an offer. “We want a conversation with him where we say that we want to help and look at a range of things on offer,” said a Downing Street official.

The plan has received a mixed response in Nigeria, where one official said the authorities were hoping for help in curtailing an international cartel trading in stolen Nigerian crude.

“The networks compromising security in the delta now go beyond our national boundaries. There is an international dimension to this,” the Nigerian official said.

Every day more than 100,000 barrels of Nigerian oil are illegally tapped and traded, the proceeds of which help to finance the insurrection, which compromises the state’s ability to restore order.

Mr Yar’Adua last week called for the creation of a system to track crude oil, similar to the Kimberley process set up to curb the trade in conflict diamonds.

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