Some Niger Delta Residents Call for Troops Withdrawal
By SOF Editor on Wed, 11/18/2009 - 11:47am
A growing number of residents of Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta are demanding the immediate withdrawal of government troops from the region following a successful amnesty and cessation of hostilities.
Troops have maintained a high-profile presence in the Niger Delta despite a halt in militant attacks on oil facilities and personnel in the past four months. Soldiers can still be seen at security checkpoints. Many residents, wary of the way the military treat civilians, would like to see the soldiers withdrawn from what they describe as regular police duties.
Amnesty International, in a report last year, slammed "the entrenched culture of impunity for human-rights violations committed by the police and security forces."
Spokesman for the Niger Delta state of Bayelsa Adeyi Asara tells VOA the federal government must reciprocate the region's acceptance of a government-sponsored peace initiative by reviewing the presence of the military.
"It is time for these road blocks to be removed completely from our roads because it is slowing down the economy of the state," he said. "You are also trying to scare away prospective investors because they might be thinking it is a war zone. The soldiers can be withdrawn to their barracks and allow the police to do their work. We have given the federal government our words; no more militancy. But the people should also be loosened."
Many former militants have also asked the federal government to withdraw thousands of troops stationed in the Niger Delta. Security analysts warn the situation in the Niger Delta remains fragile, despite what has been acclaimed as "a highly successful" amnesty and disarmament program.
Military spokesman in the region Timothy Antigha says security forces are not in a hurry to leave and that the government will decide the fate of the military task force deployed in the Niger Delta.
"The JTF [Joint Task Force] was put together by higher authorities and given the task of containing militancy in the Niger Delta as well as eliminating illegal crude oil bunkering," he said. "The JTF cannot determine when it will leave the creeks of Niger Delta. It is left for government to determine."
Despite being home to Nigeria's multi-billion-dollar oil-and-gas industry, inhabitants of the Niger Delta remain poor, triggering an armed struggle that has reduced the country's oil production by one-third in the past three years.