Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nigeria oil war rages

Militants step up 'oil war' in Niger Delta

Attacks on foreign oil company facilities threaten to disrupt global oil supply.

By Jonathan Adams
Christian Science Monitor, terrorism and security roundup
September 17, 2008

Militants in southern Nigeria have sharply stepped up attacks on foreign interests after declaring an "oil war" Sunday. The campaign, which the militants have dubbed "Hurricane Barbarossa," entered its third day Tuesday with an attack on a Royal Dutch Shell pipeline after attacks on Shell and Chevron facilities in previous days.

The Nigerian government has tried to downplay the threat. But the violence looks set to further disturb oil supplies from Nigeria, the United States' fifth-largest source of oil, at a time when global supplies are already being squeezed.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Tuesday that the main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), said it had "blown up and destroyed" a Shell pipeline.

"A major crude oil pipeline at Bakana Front in Degema Local Government Area ... was destroyed with high explosives by MEND detonation engineers backed by heavily-armed fighters," MEND said in an email statement to the media....

MEND declared an all-out war on the oil industry at the weekend in response to what it said was an unprovoked attack by the Nigerian military on one of its positions on Saturday.

Other less prominent armed groups appear to have either joined forces with MEND or taken advantage of the confusion.

Unidentified gunmen on Monday night kidnapped a Briton in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers, Sagir told AFP, without giving further details.

According to Bloomberg, Shell confirmed the attack on Tuesday.

The militants claimed Monday they had "razed" a Shell oil complex, according to CNN. Shell confirmed that attack, which left one guard and four others dead, and said it had shut down facilities in some locations because of the violence.

A day earlier, MEND had warned all international oil workers to evacuate their staff from their facilities because it planned to "bring these structures to the ground."

"The foolhardy workers and soldiers who did not heed our warning perished inside the station," MEND said, referring to the Shell complex.

The Nigerian military has put on a brave face, saying the militants were hyping their threats to spread fear. According to the Vanguard, a Nigerian daily, one defense official has dismissed any notion of a an "oil war."

The Director of Defence Information, Brigadier-General Mohammed Yusuf, in a statement in Abuja said the military was not at war with any Nigerian or group.

"The oil war propaganda is just a gimmick by the militants to create fear in every law-abiding citizen, both local and foreign alike, and to provoke tension in the polity.

"We are not unaware of their antics and capabilities. The joint task force in place is very capable of containing the indiscretion of the militants. So there is nothing like war."

Since early 2006, MEND has waged a campaign of terror, attacking foreign-owned oil facilities and kidnapping foreign oil workers to draw attention to its political aims, according to a background report by the Council on Foreign Relations.

In that time, MEND has cut Nigeria's oil production by a quarter. One of the group's main demands is that locals receive 50 percent of revenues from the delta's oil. Most oil revenues end up lining the pockets of corrupt Nigerian officials.

The militants, like the Niger Delta's population at large, object to the environmental degradation and underdevelopment of the region and the lack of benefits the community has received from its extensive oil resources.

While there is a revenue-sharing plan in which the federal government distributes roughly half of the country's oil revenues among state governors, these funds do not trickle down to the roughly 30 million residents of the Delta. In 2003, some 70 percent of oil revenues was stolen or wasted, according to an estimate by the head of Nigeria's anticorruption agency.

Whereas many residents used to work as fishermen, oil installations and spills have decimated the fish population and now markets must import frozen fish, according to National Geographic.

The election of a new Nigerian government in mid-2007 raised hopes of a deal, with the new vice president meeting directly with Delta militants. But the militant movement has now splintered into competing factions, making it difficult for the government to find a negotiating partner, according to the International Crisis Group.

Adding to the confusion is the rise of armed thuggery, kidnappings for profit, and other criminal opportunism.

The Christian Science Monitor reported in late June that MEND had declared a cease-fire and was "prepared to give dialogue a chance." That olive branch has now proven short-lived.

A commentary in the Vanguard blames the delta's backward status on Nigerian officials who have mimicked the British colonial model of resource extraction.

Sadly, while [the British] were developing their country from resources from the Niger area, the source of their wealth was being under-developed.

More sadly, the Nigerian state under the locals has followed this same path, but in an edited form. Whereas the British developed their tiny island from the resources they stole from their colonies, their Nigerian baton-takers chose, by and large, as they still do, to concentrate on developing their pockets and appetite.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

China "invades" Vietnam?

Vietnam protests hawkish Chinese Web postings

Chinese officials have confirmed that plans posted online for an invasion of Vietnam do not reflect Beijing's official position. But the postings are heightening tensions at a time when China seeks to gain control of oil-rich regions in the South China Sea.

By Jonathan Adams

Christian Science Monitor, Terrorism and Security Update
September 10, 2008

The Hanoi government has complained to Beijing about postings on Chinese websites that detail plans for an invasion of Vietnam.

Chinese officials have dismissed the posts as the ramblings of a hypernationalist minority. But the diplomatic flare-up is seen as an indication of rising tensions between the two nations over the potentially oil-rich South China Sea. There, China has been pressuring Western oil firms to cancel joint exploration projects with Vietnam in waters that Beijing also claims.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that the invasion plans have been posted on the popular Chinese web portal and at least three other websites. Analysts interviewed by the SCMP characterized the posted "invasion plans" as the work of kooks, with little military value.

The supposed plans detail a 31-day invasion, starting with five days of missile strikes from land, sea and air and climaxing in an invasion involving 310,000 troops sweeping into Vietnam from Yunnan, Guangxi and the South China Sea. The electronic jamming of Vietnamese command and communications centers is mentioned, along with the blocking of sea lanes in the South China Sea....

"Vietnam is the strategic hub of the whole of Southeast Asia. Vietnam has to be conquered first if Southeast Asia is to be under [China's] control again," the plans say. "From all perspectives Vietnam is a piece of bone hard to be swallowed."

The SCMP added that Vietnamese officials were baffled that the postings remained online after they registered their complaints, since Beijing can easily block any Web content that has been brought to its attention.

The Straits Times, a Singapore daily, reported that Chinese officials have assured Vietnam that the postings do not reflect Beijing's official position.

The web postings come as China and Vietnam are squaring off over exploration projects in the South China Sea in areas that both claim. In July, Beijing had warned the American oil giant ExxonMobil to scrap an exploration deal with Vietnam, reported the World Tribune. The report suggested that Vietnam had a better case for its claim to potentially oil-rich fields off its coast. But China is flexing its growing political muscle by asserting its claim to nearly the entire South China Sea.

A Hong Kong newspaper says Beijing's diplomats have threatened retaliation if ExxonMobil goes ahead with a preliminary agreement with the Vietnamese state oil firm PetroVietnam. The deal covers exploitation in the South China Sea off Vietnam's south and central coasts, according to the Sunday Morning Post....

The Hong Kong newspaper quoted unidentified sources saying Exxon Mobil was confident of Vietnam's sovereign rights to the blocks it was now seeking to explore. But it is clear that ExxonMobil could not dismiss China's warnings out of hand given the rapidly increasing Chinese market for crude oil and oil products....

Last year, Chinese media targeted an agreement between Vietnam and BP near the Spratlys maintaining that those islands had been an "indisputable part of Chinese territory since ancient times." The Spratlys, like other island groups in the region, are uninhabited rocky outcroppings and coral but are in an area that may contain large oil and gas deposits.

Reuters reported that China and Vietnam are actually cooperating in oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam's north coast. But in waters further south, the two sides are at odds. The territorial dispute in southern waters led British oil giant BP to scotch its plans for exploration there.

Once united by their communist ideology, relations between Vietnam and China cooled in the 1970s, particularly when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in late 1978 to oust the Beijing-backed Khmer Rouge regime.

Partly in retaliation, China invaded Vietnam a few months later, as detailed by Global Security. The two sides fought a nasty one-month border war that left tens of thousands dead before Beijing retreated. Border clashes continued throughout the 1980s.

That history helps explain Vietnam's sensitivity to public "invasion plans" on Chinese websites, no matter how bogus they might be.

In the past two decades, relations have warmed as both countries moved ahead with pragmatic market reforms, despite several ongoing territorial disputes. In addition to the Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea, the countries are also battling for influence over neighboring, resource-rich Laos.

A commentary in the Asia Times argued that Laos is likely to increasingly tilt toward China, despite the landlocked country's historically close ties to Vietnam.

Laos is of increasing strategic importance to both China and Vietnam, two of Asia's fastest growing countries. Vietnam's interests lie primarily in securing its long land border with Laos and developing greater access to markets in Thailand. For China, Laos provides a growing avenue to export products to wider Southeast Asia, particularly from its remote and less-developed, landlocked southwestern regions....

Some analysts here predict that the balance of influence inside the ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) could soon shift in Beijing's favor, as senior Lao leaders fade from the political scene and younger, more market-savvy cadre lacking experience in the communist revolutionary period assume positions of power.

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