Source AP ©

Nigerian militant group plans new campaign of violence in southern petroleum region

A Nigerian militant group will end its voluntary cease-fire on Sunday and start a fresh campaign of violence in the restive southern petroleum region.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta denied persistent rumors and press reports that its leader had been arrested in Angola, saying in an e-mailed statement sent to journalists that the news was a Nigerian government disinformation campaign.

The group had announced a voluntary cease-fire after the May inauguration of President Umaru Yar'Adua, saying it would allow time for negotiations. But the militants called off the truce Sunday, saying talks had failed.

Starting from midnight Sunday, "we will commence attacks on installations and abduction of expatriates. There will be no forewarning of these attacks but a statement will follow soon after," the group said.

Other statements have been sent from the e-mail address used by the militant spokesman in recent days with a tone and writing style not typical of the normal e-mail writer - indicating either that the e-mail account had been hacked or that there was a split in the group's leadership.

While Sunday's missive appeared similar to past communiques, it could not be confirmed whether the normal spokesman, who uses the pseudonym Jomo Gbomo, was the writer of the statement.

That writer has gained credibility during nearly two years of attacks by announcing impending operations that were then carried out as advertised, or supplying photos of hostages, or details that could be authenticated, after the attacks.

On Saturday, another e-mail from the same address that was clearly written by another person said that a top leader of the group - a reputed arms dealer many suspect to be the prime force behind the fighters - had been arrested in Angola.

But Nigerian officials contacted repeatedly by The Associated Press never confirmed the news, and press reports of the man's arrest citing security officials gave no named sources. Nigerian government officials weren't available Sunday for comment.

The group, known by its acronym MEND, launched its campaign of kidnapping expatriate workers and sabotaging oil installations nearly two years ago, cutting Nigerian output by nearly one quarter.

The group said it would halt hostilities to allow Yar'Adua's fledgling administration to negotiate a long-term solution to the woes of the Niger Delta, where angry inhabitants say government corruption and underdevelopment has left them in poverty despite their natural bounty.

"The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), is committed to the fight for justice and ultimately the emancipation of the people of the Niger Delta," the group said in its statement Sunday. "We will not sit back and allow our birthright to be exchanged for a bowl of porridge."

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