Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nigeria: Bakassi Killings - Govt, Cameroon Commence Probe

Nigeria: Bakassi Killings - Govt, Cameroon Commence Probe

This Day (Lagos)

Paul Ohia With Agency Report

Barely 24 hours after some 22 Cameroonian soldiers were felled by gunmen in the Bakassi Peninsula, Nigeria and Cameroon have pledged to work together to find out the killers of the 21 soldiers.

But sources have claimed that the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta is behind the attack.

As at press time, MEND has laid no claim to the killings but a Delta activist, Miabiye Kuromiema said the militant group was responsible for both an earlier attack at the Qua Iboe oil terminal and the soldiers' death.

"It appears likely it was the Henry Okah group led by Farah," said Kuromiema to Reuters news agency yesterday.

"They made a statement of relevance, that they are a faction to be reckoned with," he added.

MEND has staged a string of attacks and kidnappings on oil facilities since late 2005, forcing thousands of foreign workers to leave.

In Monday's first attack on the oil terminal, militants stormed a heavily guarded jetty, seized two machine guns, stole a navy boat and blew up a police boat, industry sources said. A pregnant woman was killed in the crossfire.

The fierce gun battle prompted US company ExxonMobil to evacuate families of staff from the 400,000 barrel per day facility, but production was not affected, the company said.

An associate of Okah, asking not to be named for security reasons, said: "It was a MEND operation. They wanted those machine guns because they are preparing for war."

The raid in Bakassi, some 50 miles (80 km) away, raised tensions in the long-disputed peninsula, which has offshore oil deposits and was handed back to Cameroon by Nigeria last year.

MEND had observed a ceasefire for four months to allow for peace talks with the government until September when Okah was arrested in Angola. Since then, it has staged two kidnappings on foreign operated offshore oilfields and threatened more attacks.

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The government's attempts to lure militants to the negotiating table has split them into factions, and activists say rival militant groups could be rearming for a major battle, either between factions or against the federal government.

MEND's Okah has been in a war of words with rival militia leader, Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who has joined the peace talks and spoken out against kidnapping.

Activists say Farah's real name is Farouk, a Muslim converted by Asari who has since allied with Okah. His militia is believed to have staged several MEND operations over the past two years under Okah's direction.

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