| WARRI, Nigeria, Sept 14
WARRI, Nigeria, Sept 14 A truce in the conflict
in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta is in danger of being
derailed by anger at the military over the death of an elderly
The Niger Delta Avengers group, whose attacks on oil
pipelines in the southern region crippled crude output earlier
this year and pushed Africa's biggest economy into recession,
said in August it agreed to a ceasefire.
The government has held out the prospect of holding talks on
the grievances of people in the Delta with militant groups which
maintain a truce.
But the death last week of Chief Thomas Ekpemupolo, the
father of a fugitive former militant leader, could rekindle
The octogenarian fell while fleeing an army raid on his home
town in May and injured his leg, which had to be amputated two
months later, said a spokesman for his son, former militant
leader Government Ekpemupolo, known as Tompolo.
Militants launched a wave of attacks at the start of the
year to demand a greater share of oil revenues for the swampy
region, which produces most of Nigeria's crude but whose
residents are mired in poverty.
Security sources say Tompolo has links to those responsible
for the attacks, which began shortly after corruption charges
were brought against him. He has denied any involvement.
"In a nutshell, (the) government caused the death of my
father," said Frank Ekpemupolo, another son, raising his voice
above the traditional music played through giant speakers at a
gathering of 400 mourners at his father's compound in Warri, the
largest city in Delta state.
Mourners including community chiefs, politicians and
villagers accused troops of harassing people in the fishing
communities dotted along the region's waterways.
An Avengers spokesman told Reuters the military was
"harassing poor people of the Niger Delta". The military denies
it, saying troops are merely searching for militants and
Several new militant groups have sprung up in the last few
weeks, each with its own demands, and some have vowed to launch
a new wave of attacks.
Community leaders say they are concerned that the government
has not contacted militants or unveiled a negotiation team,
three weeks after the Avengers said they were ready for the
"We haven't been contacted, but we are not worried," said
the Avengers spokesman.
Captain Mark Anthony, a spokesman for defunct militant group
the Niger Delta Liberation Force (NDLF), said the "government's
muteness" since the Avengers announced a ceasefire was creating
"a security concern for everybody".
"They have only stopped bombing temporarily. It doesn't mean
they are tired of bombing," he said.
An army offensive was launched in late August against
militant camps and led to the deaths of five people and the
arrests of 23 others.
Eric Omare, spokesman for the Ijaw Youth Council, which
represents one of the region's largest ethnic groups, said
statements by President Muhammadu Buhari that militants would be
treated like Boko Haram jihadists prompted fears that the offer
of talks was a ruse to prepare for a military onslaught.
Tensions in Warri are concentrated along its murky brown
waterways - used by fishermen, commuters and thieves stealing
crude oil - where fleeting encounters with strangers can end in
Boats slow down and their occupants raise their arms when
they encounter naval patrol boats fitted with machineguns.
Fishermen say they fear being mistaken for militants and
shot. Gunmen disguised as priests killed three soldiers last
An official who did not want to be named said "arrangements"
were being made to resume dialogue with the militants.
He said the government wanted each militant group to send
representatives, rather than acting through intermediaries as in
(Additional reporting by Felix Onuah; Editing by Ulf Laessing
and Andrew Roche)