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Nigerian rebels: Military imperils cease-fire

A member of the Nigerian navy patrols an oil depot alongside pipelines damaged in an attack by Niger delta militants, in Lagos, Nigeria, on Monday. Sunday Alamba / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Nigeria's main militant group claimed Wednesday that military gun boats and troops were heading toward one of their camps in the oil-rich south, threatening a rebel cease-fire just 12 hours after it was called.

The military quickly denied the allegation, saying it had no plans to attack the rebels from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.

The rebels had halted their campaign of vandalizing oil installations and kidnapping foreigners after the government met one of its demands and released an ailing rebel leader on Monday.

They threatened to call off the cease-fire, however, after they said they received reports of troop movements.

"Barely 12 hours into our cease-fire, the military Joint Task Force has dispatched seven gun boats with heavily armed troops from Warri and are headed towards one of our camps located around the Delta/Ondo state border," rebel spokesman Jomo Gbomo said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.

"We are monitoring the armada and sincerely hope that the planned attack will be converted to a war exercise," Gbomo said.

A military spokesman denied the rebels' allegations Wednesday, called them "misleading and borne out of mischief."

"We know where they are, but we don't intend to attack them," Col. Rabe Mohammed told The Associated Press. "We are in total obedience to the directive of our political leaders and the proclamation of amnesty."

Prospect of negotiations
Earlier Wednesday, both sides had welcomed the prospect of negotiations to end years of violence that have trimmed Nigeria's daily oil output by about 25 percent from pre-2006 heights, with the country now producing about 1.6 million barrels a day.

The militants say their impoverished region has not benefited from five decades of oil production, and are agitating for more federally held oil funds to be sent to the south. They also want the government to withdraw troops, and to help people return to homes they either fled amid the violence or were forced to leave.

The government has acknowledged the grievances of many in the Niger Delta, but denounces the militants as criminals who use their struggle as a cover to make money by stealing crude oil from Nigeria's wells and pipelines and selling it overseas.

Nevertheless, the government released ailing rebel leader Henry Okah on Monday — a key demand of the rebels, who in called the cease-fire and invited negotiations with officials.

Hours before Okah's release, the rebels had staged their first attack outside the southern Delta region by setting fire to an oil depot and loading tankers in Lagos, Nigeria's economic powerhouse. Three naval officers and two oil workers were killed in the attack.

More on: Nigeria