updated 7/10/2008 12:11:10 PM ET 2008-07-10T16:11:10

Nigeria’s main militant group said Thursday it would resume attacks in the country’s oil-rich delta region because of Britain’s pledge to support the government in the conflict there.

A leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta told The Associated Press the group would abandon a two-week-old cease-fire as of midnight Saturday. He spoke anonymously to avoid identification and capture by authorities.

The militant leader said the group was calling off the cease-fire because of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s promise at the G-8 summit in Japan to support the Nigerian government’s efforts to end violence in the oil-producing region.

Brown’s comments amount to “military support to the illegal government of (Nigerian President) Umaru Yar’Adua,” the leader of the group, known as MEND, said in an e-mail.

“To demonstrate our seriousness to the UK support of an injustice, MEND will be calling off its unilateral cease-fire,” the e-mail said.

Oil production 'substantially reduced'
Speaking Wednesday in Japan, Brown said oil production in Nigeria’s southern delta region had been “substantially reduced over the last few months as a result of continued violence and lawlessness.”

He said Britain stood “ready to give help to the Nigerians to deal with the lawlessness that exists in this area and to achieve levels of production that Nigeria is capable of.”

Brown said he had spoken to Yar’Adua in Japan and would meet with him again next week in London.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is behind two years of attacks on Nigeria’s oil infrastructure that have sliced the country’s normal daily oil output by a quarter and contributed to the worldwide surge in the price of crude oil. Nigeria has the capacity to produce at least 2.5 million barrels per day.

In London, a Foreign Office spokesman said British government policy on the Niger Delta remains unchanged.

Speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy, the British official told The Associated Press: “We remain committed to working with the Nigerian Government to address the underlying causes of the instability in the Niger Delta, including improved governance and development as well as security.”

Threat to British citizens
The statement by the militant movement said if Brown makes good “his threat to support this criminality for the sake of oil, UK citizens and interests in Nigeria will suffer the consequences.”

Thousands of Britons work in the volatile West African country, many of them working in the oil industry. Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said last month they would boycott a government peace summit, but they would halt attacks on June 24 and maintain the cease-fire until further notice. The group said then that it was heeding calls by elders to give peace efforts another try.

The militants also declared a cease-fire in 2007 after Yar’Adua’s inauguration May 29, saying they were willing to join a peace process.

But they resumed their campaign of pipeline bombings and other oil-industry attacks after one of their leaders, Henry Okah, was arrested in September on charges of arms dealing charges. They have said they are fighting both for his release and for a greater share of the oil wealth produced in southern Nigeria.

Many inhabitants of the Niger river delta region live in crippling poverty despite the riches that the oil pumped out from under their villages bring the government.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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