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Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua moved quickly after taking office a year ago to try to address the causes of unrest in the Niger Delta, where a violent campaign of sabotage against the oil industry has cut production and contributed to an unprecedented rise in world oil prices.
Yar’Adua announced plans for formal talks and freed two jailed militant leaders when he took office, but the peace process has made little real progress since then, with the rebel Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) continuing to blow up oil pipelines and kidnap foreign workers.
The government has called a summit for July meant to involve all stakeholders, but MEND and another group — the Ijaw Youth Council — have said they will not take part. Yar’Adua has said the summit aims to address the frustrations of the Niger Delta communities, who have seen their land and water polluted by oil production, but he has also said his government will not tolerate the presence of armed militants in the region.
What are the options for the government — at federal and state level — in tackling the problems of the Niger Delta? Should the government negotiate with armed militants? Are the militants anything more than common criminals, profiting from an illicit trade in stolen crude? What role should the foreign oil companies play in bringing peace to the region?