Nigerian Militant Group Blames Government for Leader's Death in Gun Battle

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the main armed group in Nigeria’s southern oil region, blamed the government for the death of one of its former commanders, Soboma George, shot dead by unknown gunmen in the oil hub of Port Harcourt.

“We have very credible facts that point to the government of Nigeria as the culprits behind the act,” Jomo Gbomo, spokesman for the group known as MEND, said in an e-mailed response to questions today. “We have long since known that anyone not fully cooperative of the amnesty scam would be a target for elimination by assassination.”

Ima Niboro, Nigerian presidency spokesman, didn’t answer calls on his mobile phone seeking comment.

George was among thousands of former fighters that disarmed last year under a government amnesty program. Attacks by armed groups in the Niger River delta, home to Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, cut the country’s oil output by more than 28 percent between 2006 and 2009. Output has recovered since the start of the amnesty last year.

While many of its former commanders accepted the amnesty, MEND spurned the offer, saying the government was yet to address its demands for local control of the delta’s oil resources.

Nigeria is Africa’s top oil producer and the fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports. Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp., Total SA and Chevron Corp. run joint ventures with state- owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. that pump the country’s oil.

George was killed in an attack by a rival gang of gunmen, police spokeswoman Rita Abbey said yesterday.

When George was arrested by the police in Port Harcourt in 2007, MEND fighters raided the city police station and freed him after a gun battle. Troops have been put on alert to check potential escalation of violence, Aminu Iliyasu, a military spokesman in Port Harcourt said yesterday.

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