updated 10/1/2004 8:17:43 PM ET 2004-10-02T00:17:43

A militia leader who threatened “full-scale” war in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta agreed Friday to a tentative deal to disarm his fighters but said he would keep up a political struggle for regional autonomy and a greater share of oil wealth.

President Olusegun Obasanjo issued a statement after talks with the militia leader, Moujahid Dokubo-Asari, saying the warlord had agreed with other armed groups to disband his militia, disarm and cease hostilities.

Dokubo-Asari had warned foreign oil companies to withdraw their workers and quit the region. The threats helped send world crude oil prices to the historic peak of more than $50 a barrel.

“We’ve agreed tentatively to disarmament, but all the issues must be taken together, including the demands for self-determination and control of our resources,” Dokubo-Asari said after the talks. “I am happy with the agreement we reached with the government, because for the first time, the Nigerian government has agreed we can campaign to control our resources and ... self-determination.”

Dokubo-Asari, who heads the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, said talks with Obasanjo would resume Oct. 8.

Rival group joins truce
Ateke Tom, who leads a rival militia group, the Niger Delta Vigilante Force, also agreed to disarm, Obasanjo’s office said in a statement. Tom’s fighters are believed to be supported by the government.

In speech broadcast earlier to mark Nigeria’s 44th anniversary of independence from Britain, Obasanjo warned that he would not tolerate threats to the oil industry, which is the world’s seventh-largest crude exporter and the fifth-largest source of U.S. oil imports. Nigeria produces about 2.5 million barrels of crude per day.

“Let me assure those patriotic, peaceful and law-abiding Nigerians that government will not tolerate in any way or form, any act that would mortgage or compromise the interest of the majority,” he said. “The government is taking steps to stem the tide of undue militancy, and we are confident that reason and the law will prevail.”

There were no reports of fighting Friday, but Dokubo-Asari said government troops had moved nine military gunboats and two helicopter gunships into militia territory in the delta and were poised for a “cordon and search” operation.

Dokubo-Asari, normally based in a camp in the mangrove swamps of the delta, has been in Abuja since Wednesday for talks he said were initiated by Obasanjo. He took up arms against the government in April.

He is seen as a folk hero by many poor residents of the southern delta region who complain that they have never shared in the country’s vast oil wealth. Dokubo-Asari claims to be fighting for self-determination in the region and greater control over oil resources for more than 8 million Ijaws, the dominant tribe in the southern delta region.

The government had routinely dismissed Dokubo-Asari’s group as criminals, accusing them of illegally siphoning oil from pipelines.

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